Actor-turned-activist Rose McGowan on fighting the good fight

When Rose McGowan was 10 years old, her father Daniel, recalling that she was born with her fist up, sent her a birthday card inscribed with this message: "Dear Rose, I've always admired your sense of justice, happy birthday."

All grown-up, however, McGowan does not see herself as a warrior, though in the wake of a wave sexual harassment and assault scandals that have shaken Hollywood, she has come to be seen as a central figure in that fight.

"It's not important for me to be seen as anything," she says. "In fact, I very much loved living a private existence. [But] this has been a long time coming ... and does that take a warrior? Absolutely."

Her mission, she says, is simple: "I don't respect those who don't respect. I'm really just trying to stop international rapists and child molesters. It's pretty simple."

In October, 2017, McGowan was identified among a number of high-profile victims in the first of what would become several waves of sexual harassment and assault revelations.

A sometimes fiery exchange has followed, including McGowan accusing Hollywood's male establishment of knowing what was happening and not speaking up. "You Hollywood A-list golden boys are liars," she said on social media. "You all knew."

Those experiences, and their after-effects, now converge in Citizen Rose, which is labelled a reality series but is perhaps more accurately described as a raw documentary.

The series is billed by the producers as "an unfettered view" into McGowan's mind, explores her activism, her art and "the massive social change she has helped usher in, as well as fight back against those who have hurt so many, including her". It begins with a two-hour special; four more episodes will air later in the year.

The series, McGowan says, is not about men and women, or the tension between the two. Rather, it is "about expanding consciousness ... I want to get us 10 per cent out of being less men and less women and 10 per cent more human," she says. "It's really simple. It's about humanity. It's about looking at things differently, using art differently."

Some of the material in the program was filmed as far back as three years ago, at a time when McGowan, who had worked primarily as an actress on series such as Charmed, realised she was less certain being herself in front of a camera.

"I realised I could not speak on camera without a script," she says. "I had to train myself for the last three years to be able to actually just exist as me. This is not always pretty and I have no glam team. [This is] my brand, it's raw and it's true. And it's my truth, and I think ... this is my form of volunteer work."

Given what she has been through, the 44-year-old actress says she came to this project with very little trust left. She chose the production company, Bunim/Murray, whose other credits include Caitlyn Jenner's I Am Cait, because she "wanted assassins in the best way". And she chose the E! channel because of its global reach.

"I didn't want to do something on Netflix or HBO ... it felt not egalitarian," she says. "My main goal really is to smash the [idea of] the 99 per cent and the one percent. That's what I am about ??? [I want] to tell you the truth."

The placement of the show opens a very specific issue: E! is one of the studios called out publicly for wage disparity in the wake of revelations that one of its female anchors, Catt Sadler, had resigned after discovering her male counterpart was on a significantly larger salary.

McGowan doesn't dodge the issue, though she is plainly not responsible for it.

"There is a difference, and that is systemic," she says. "And we can call it out against E! but you can [also] call it out against your own organisations. You can call it out against every single job there is because it's legal to discriminate that way.

"It is a time of reckoning and a reset button," she adds. "I like the people at E! and one of the first things they said to me was [the network] has a mandate to change things for women at that network, and I think that's a great mandate."

McGowan's relationship with the media is undeniably complex.

Fronting the media to promote the series, she sets only one condition: that we do not speak the name of the man who stands accused of harassing and assaulting many women, including McGowan. (In deference to that point, his name is not included in this story.)

But she is equally unafraid to take the fight to the media's door. "A lot of people in your job have [painted me as crazy] for years, and they were paid to do it," she says. "The narrative that's been run by your peers, a lot of them, about me for 20 years has been erroneous. It's been a lie, and it's been cruel."

Despite the force of that statement, McGowan is not combative at all. She is charming and very genuine. And while she is plainly angry about what has transpired, she understands the media has a role to play in illuminating the issues.

McGowan says she has seen "quite a bit of change" in the media in the wake of the harassment and assault scandal.

She dislikes seeing stories about "movements" and "backlashes", because they play up to cliches and tend to amplify single events into larger shifts. She also dislikes it when the media "creates something that's not there ... [just] let it be".

"The best thing is just support, not shaming, and looking at the language that you use," McGowan says. "It's very, very critical. I've really seen a lot of reporters and writers really stepping up, to tell you the truth, and grappling in a new way with language.

"I wish we had better language," she adds. "Misconduct sounds tepid, at best."

Citizen Rose airs Wednesday, January 31, at noon on E! and is repeated at 7.30pm.

This story Actor-turned-activist Rose McGowan on fighting the good fight first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.