Rose McGowan’s memoir “Brave,” released earlier this year, is in equal measures alarming and galvanizing. It’s a little book of horrors, and for many of those horrors, actress-turned-activist McGowan herself is at the receiving end.
Readers follow her through years of abuse and wrongdoing, from her childhood as first an unwitting member of the Children of God cult and later teenage runaway, to another “cult” she describes as being yet more insidious: Hollywood. There’s no shortage of disconcerting, painful moments gathered here — indeed, the whole of the book moves through decades of injustices in rapid-fire succession — and McGowan is intent on doing the work of uncovering them.
This notably includes unearthing the story of her sexual assault at the hands of Harvey Weinstein (referred to in the book simply as “the Monster”). It was speaking up about this act of violence, and her subsequent blacklisting by Weinstein, in October of last year that secured McGowan a vocal place at the frontlines of the #MeToo movement; though, as made clear in “Brave,” Hollywood’s protection of men like Weinstein is just one of the social ills she aims to cure.
Significantly, the book’s introduction begins with an anecdote not about McGowan herself, but of another actress. During the Golden Age of cinema, Frances Farmer was a free-spirited, rising star, appearing in several mid-to-late 1930s films — until her involuntary commitment to a mental hospital by studioheads who deemed her "difficult" and, therefore, unstable.
“She hated everything about her artificial life. She wanted to be free,” McGowan writes. “Frances tried to escape fame and the toxicity of Hollywood’s male-dominated world, but the studio had her captured. They took Frances to a mental institution… The male powers that be in Hollywood wanted Frances to a submissive good little girl, and remain so. What they left of her was an empty shell.” Little, McGowan asserts, has changed in essence for actresses today, adding that “very few sex symbols escape Hollywood with their minds intact, if they manage to stay alive at all.”
But it’s not only actresses who are subject to this literal and metaphorical brainwashing. The horrors described in “Brave” would make for a plenty compelling read were they to be confined to the golden streets of Hollywood alone — but nothing in this book is intended to be read as anything short of universal. McGowan’s oft-repeated true aim is to help readers, through this memoir, draw the connection between Hollywood and messages that are being ingrained into their own unsuspecting lives. At times, her tone turns downright conspiratorial.
“You may think that what happens in Hollywood doesn’t affect you. You’re wrong,” she writes. “My darlings, who do you think is curating your reality? Who is showing you who and what you want to be?”
In our “as-seen-on-TV society,” she continues, what we’ve watched and consumed from birth continues to form and shape us. (Which, of course, she’s right about — there’s no shortage of research to back that.) It's a subliminal influence that has its roots in (predominantly male) Hollywood boardrooms, a space McGowan describes as, perhaps not-so surprisingly, devoid of ethics.
“I’ve also been on the other side of the looking glass. Watching you… All of us in Hollywood, media, and advertising do. And you know what? We are really good at it,” she writes. “We have had it drilled into us how best to be marketed to you. How best to be sold to you. How to implant what ‘we’ want into your brain, into your thoughts, into your wallet. And it works. You’re sold a fake reality all for the rock-bottom price of $14.”
McGowan’s intent in writing “Brave,” then, isn’t for vengeance. Rather, it’s an opportunity to, as she puts it, have deep, direct conversation with the public about “freedom — yours and mine,” and through that conversation break chains we may not have even been aware we had.
Want to be part of the conversation? Join Fairygodboss for a virtual book club discussion of “Brave” — with Rose herself! — on Wednesday June 13th and 7p.m.