If you were to judge Rose McGowan based solely on her celebrated 1990s filmography, you’d come away thinking she was the coolest girl in high school. She was the delightfully foul-mouthed Amy Blue in The Doom Generation, the self-aware slasher bait in Scream, and a high school queen bee in Jawbreaker so vicious she’d make Regina George cry, just to name a few. Strong, gorgeous, funny women who feared nothing were her forté.
But just as McGowan was moving from cult movies to Hollywood, one of the industry’s most prolific abusers caught her in his snare. As reported first in the New York Times this past October, a 23-year-old McGowan was paid $100,000 by Harvey Weinstein (whom she refers to as The Monster) after, she says, he raped her at the Sundance Film Festival in 1997. And so began two decades of silence until January 2017, when McGowan reportedly sat down for an interview with Ronan Farrow about the alleged assault for a story that CBS eventually killed.
Watching the two-hour premiere for Citizen Rose, McGowan’s new documentary show airing on E! January 30, it’s clear that the actress will never be silent again. Pulling together professional documentary footage and more intimate scenes shot by McGowan herself (often from the comfort of her bathroom), Citizen Rose begins with the Weinstein allegations being revealed and trails McGowan as she deals with the newfound spotlight, reflecting on the years she was legally not allowed to speak about what the producer did to her.
Citizen Rose is an unpolished project, but then again so is McGowan’s fight against sexual assault in Hollywood. When the documentary begins, McGowan is clumsily established as a sort-of universal feminist savior, with the show following her through the Women’s March and in meetings with other abuse survivors, assuring all that she’s “just like them.” The ease with which McGowan can sloganize her own trauma, from her #CITIZENARMY “movement” to her repeating “these motherfuckers built a beast,” can be admittedly uncomfortable, as are the subtle built-in sales pitches for her forthcoming album and clips from her short film Dawn.
But Citizen Rose only gets stronger as it grows more specific to McGowan’s experiences, cataloguing just how the #MeToo movement has thrown her world upside down. Growing up in the cult Children of God, McGowan is quick to call Hollywood a cult in the same vein, or explain to people why the industry is “the messaging system for your mind.” Her frank views on the industry go several steps further than those many of her peers: beyond targeting bad men and changing a system that enables sexual abuse, McGowan is also asking us to think critically about how the culture is actively promoted in media and how movies sell women to audiences.
There’s also a sense of warranted paranoia that permeates every second of Citizen Rose’s premiere as you watch McGowan deal with Weinstein’s corrupt forces. In one scene, when she’s stopped by a cop who warns her that there’s a warrant out for her arrest, she replies dryly: “It’s the strangest story... it involves Mossad agents.” “Oh, good!” the officer replies, and you just have to laugh because as crazy as it sounds, it’s true. Elsewhere, her experiences manifest as something more terrifying. In another scene, after actress Amber Tamblyn comes to visit her one night, McGowan hugs her goodbye and whispers: “If I die, you have to keep all my work to be studied.”
Citizen Rose is technically flawed; the editing could have been better and a stronger director should have been hired. But Citizen Rose is itself a story of how a woman who was molded and marketed to be, as McGowan says herself, a sexy “bad girl,” is finally allowing herself to have flaws. On screen, McGowan might shoot bad guys with a machine gun leg, but in Citizen Rose, crying and vaping and going to Thanksgiving with her family, she’s a three-dimensional human who couldn’t always fight the real-world villains.
There’s a particularly powerful scene towards the end of the premiere between McGowan and Asia Argento, a fellow Weinstein accuser, that looks like it’s filmed with a camera that’s been perched voyeuristically on a nearby table. Argento says that she doesn’t want to be called a victim, that instead she is “victorious.” “I really dislike not being allowed to be a victim,” McGowan says to her, crying. “I can be many things all at once... there’s a part of me that’s a victim and I am currently mourning for her because I didn’t have time.” Finally afforded the time to speak, Citizen Rose is just one part of McGowan’s emotional mourning process.