Forget, for a moment, that the latest edition to the X-Men cinematic universe been called a "franchise-killing disaster" that succumbs to "an exhausting case of been-there-done-that-itis." Instead, ask yourself this: Is a giant blue monster strangling a helpless-looking woman really the best way for a movie to sell itself to the public?
Rose McGowan doesn't think so. The Charmed actress has publicly called 20th Century Fox out for their X-Men: Apocalypse billboard, which depicts actor Oscar Isaac as the film's eponymous villain choking Jennifer Lawrence, in character as the mutant Mystique.
"There is a major problem when the men and women at 20th Century Fox think casual violence against women is the way to market a film," McGowan told The Hollywood Reporter, expanding on a Facebook post in which she wrote simply "Fuck this shit. Which studio did this?"
At issue isn't Lawrence's portrayal of Mystique, who, over the course of her X-Men cinematic run, has solidified the shape-shifting mutant as one of—if not the—leading ass-kickers in the franchise. Rather, it's the craven sentiment behind an ad which, divorced from any narrative context, is simply a depiction of sexually imbalanced violence meant to titillate and, ultimately, to put butts in seats.
"There is no context in the ad, just a woman getting strangled," explains McGowan. "The fact that no one flagged this is offensive and frankly, stupid."
The geniuses behind this, and I use that term lightly, need to to take a long hard look at the mirror and see how they are contributing to society. Imagine if it were a black man being strangled by a white man, or a gay male being strangled by a hetero? The outcry would be enormous. So let's right this wrong. 20th Century Fox, since you can't manage to put any women directors on your slate for the next two years, how about you at least replace your ad?
And while the ad itself may still be on display in various places, that hasn't stopped ordinary citizens from stepping up and taking justice into their own hands. In New York, for example, one parent left an eight-part note on the choking ad, that read "this violence in my kid's face is not OK."
Hollywood has long floundered (or, depending on your perspective, excelled) at this sort of contextless advertising scintillation—particularly when it comes to superhero movies. From Iron Man to Superman, film posters have seemingly gone out of their way to depict women as either helpless victims, or overly sexualized vixens.
Marcia Belsky runs the blog Headless Women of Hollywood, which collects egregious examples of movie posters featuring women as de-personified sexual objects. As she explained to USA Today earlier this year:
My argument in these posters is that by taking the head away, even in movies where the purpose is to objectify women, you know dumb comedies and stuff like that, I think it dehumanizes the sexual women even more because it completely takes away the idea that she can be a sexual being," Belsky said. "She’s only a sexual object because she doesn’t have a head, so the idea of her consent and even the idea of her own pleasure is completely taken away.
For McGowan, the context-less depiction of violence against J-Law's Mystique isn't simply troubling for what it is, but also for the effect it has on those too young to properly frame what they're seeing.
"I’ll close with a text my friend sent, a conversation with his daughter," she writes. "It follows: ‘My daughter and I were just having a deep discussion on the brutality of that hideous X-Men poster yesterday. Her words: 'Dad, why is that monster man committing violence against a woman?' This from a 9-year-old. If she can see it, why can’t Fox?'"
It seems as if Fox got the message. In a statement released by the studio Friday afternoon, they write:
In our enthusiasm to show the villainy of the character Apocalypse, we didn’t immediately recognize the upsetting connotation of this image in print form. Once we realized how insensitive it was, we quickly took steps to remove those materials. We apologize for our actions and would never condone violence against women.
The billboard featuring the ad which prompted McGowan's criticism has reportedly been taken down.