It’s an odd fit, putting a show about #MeToo activist and whistleblower Rose McGowan on E!, a network that worships Hollywood and is second only to Bravo for showcasing women as objects of frivolous spectacle. But with Citizen Rose, E! seems to be doing some sort of penance for bringing us 10 years of Keeping Up With the Kardashians (not to mention WAGS: LA, Total Divas, WAGS: Miami, Botched, and so on).
Early on in the two-hour premiere, we’re shown chilling footage of a then 23-year-old McGowan — being trailed by an MTV crew for a “day in the life” feature — entering a hotel to meet Harvey Weinstein in his room, where she says she was raped. (Weinstein has denied all allegations of non-consensual sex.) Recalling her last words to MTV’s cameras — “I think my life is finally getting easier” — McGowan is overcome with emotion, with anger, and with guilt. “That haunted me,” she says now. “I felt like, ‘Goddammit, I jinxed myself.’”
Citizen Rose’s cameras were rolling as the post-Weinstein era unfolded over several months last fall, and McGowan’s pain is very palpable — but so is her relief at finally being heard. From the time she was a little girl, the actress reminds us, she has watched men take the power away from women — first with her father, who recruited her mother into a cult known as Children of God, and then as an up-and-coming movie star in the ’90s. “You get turned into a human Barbie doll,” she says of her time as an It Girl. “Infantilized and used harshly for a short period of time.”
Today, McGowan’s persona is one of a bold, loud, “motherf***ing beast” with an f-you buzz-cut, a warrior set on taking down the patriarchy. But it’s the smaller, quieter moments of Citizen Rose that are the most powerful. A conversation with a friend in a parked car, marveling at her mom’s struggle to put herself through college: “She was a cocktail waitress at a Hilton by the airport. Can you imagine how many men grabbed her?” A whispered goodbye to friend and fellow actress Amber Tamblyn: “People are trying to kill me… If I die, you have to keep all my work to be studied.” The toll of being Citizen Rose — the years of being denied, menaced, literally spied on, and maligned — is profound, and it’s impossible not to be moved.
It’s important to note that nothing in Citizen Rose feels self-congratulatory, even as the premiere matter-of-factly chronicles the avalanche of accusations that poured out post-Weinstein. For McGowan — a defiant, fragile, sometimes paranoid woman who is by far the realest person to ever appear on an E! reality show — the focus is always on supporting survivors, and publicly shaming those who kept quiet. “The people I find most reprehensible,” she says, “are all the people that are complicit.”
While Citizen Rose is an anomaly on E!’s lineup, it’s an important one — not only for McGowan but for all the women with stories like hers. Now if the network can just stop itself from following up this project with a six-episode series about Kylie Jenner’s baby, we might be getting somewhere.