We owe Megan Fox an apology.
When I say “we” I’m referring to the collective “we,” the “we” that viewed her as a sex symbol a decade ago because that’s how Hollywood chose to market her. The “we” that sided with director Michael Bay when a feud between the two got particularly nasty in the press. The “we” that criticized Fox’s films, even the well-made ones like Jennifer’s Body, because they starred a young, beautiful actress unapologetic about her sexuality and unfiltered in her thoughts.
The “we” is you, it’s me, it’s every man, woman, and proclaimed feminist who bought into the idea that somehow, Fox wasn’t deserving of our sympathy, our compassion, and our outrage.
It’s been over a decade since Fox burst onto the scene as the female lead in Bay’s robot monstrosity. The Transformers franchise catapulted the actress to fame, gaining her a bevy of tongue-wagging male fans when she appeared as Mikaela Barnes – Shia LeBeouf’s love interest and Bay’s excuse to include copious tits and ass shots – in the action flick.
Fox’s character in the film read on paper like the kind of badass female character audiences could get behind. She came from a rough background, had a strained relationship with her father, and yet knew her self-worth. She could fix cars and fight robots better than the guys and she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. Of course, you’d be forgiven for forgetting all of those worthwhile character traits because Bay, in his infinite artistic wisdom, chose to focus his camera on Fox’s outward attributes. Body pans while she teetered over busted engines, close-ups of tight cut-off shorts and leather boots, the stray straddle of a motorcycle – these were what Bay would have you remember of Fox in his films.
But the tired, nauseating male gaze is nothing new when it comes to Hollywood and, as tragic as it is that Fox was subjected to that early in her career, it’s not why we owe her an apology.
Well, it’s not the only reason.
Fox was forced to cater to Bay’s vision for her character because of a power imbalance in the industry, one that allowed men behind the camera to shape the course of a woman’s career. That’s what Bay did when he sexualized a young woman just getting her start in the business, that’s what he did when he ensured she was blacklisted after the two had a falling out, and that’s why Fox is still fighting to reclaim the narrative of her own life so many years later.
For those who need a crash course in the events that led up to Fox’s Hollywood exile, it all started with the actress’ comments on a press tour for Jennifer’s Body. By this time, Fox had starred in two Transformers films. When asked about her experiences working with Bay – a man who had her come to his house and wash his car while he filmed her as part of the audition process for the flick – Fox compared his directing style to that of Hitler.: “He’s like Napoleon and he wants to create this insane, infamous mad-man reputation. He wants to be like Hitler on his sets, and he is. So he’s a nightmare to work for …”
Admittedly, this was not the best choice of words, and Fox had gained a reputation for saying some outlandish things in interviews. She’s caused a stir when she spoke about her bisexuality, mental illness, and her desire to avoid the career of Scarlett Johansson.
She was also 23 years old at the time, fresh, green, and unaware of the damning consequences a misplaced quote could have on a young actress’ career.
Bay did not take kindly to Fox’s characterization of his on-set persona so, as any reasonable, professional, grown-man would do, he posted a scathing response to Fox’s comments allegedly written by three crew members and not Bay himself. Part of the letter read:
When facing the press, Megan is the queen of talking trailer trash and posing like a porn star. And yes we’ve had the unbearable time of watching her try to act on set, and yes, it’s very cringe-able. So maybe, being a porn star in the future might be a good career option. But make-up beware, she has a paragraph tattooed to her backside (probably due to her rotten childhood) — easily another 45 minutes in the chair!
The note went on to label Fox a “thankless, classless bitch” with phrases like “trailer park trash” and “dumb as a rock” littering the “crew’s” description of her. There’s been plenty of speculation that Bay was the one to draft the letter – it was posted on his site for over 24 hours, presumably with his permission – but the director ultimately issued a statement saying he didn’t condone the way the situation was handled by his employees.
By then, the damage was done.
Bay, or his camp, had shifted the narrative, twisting a story that might’ve been about the abuses of power by one of Hollywood’s most famous directors into tabloid fodder that would ultimately paint Bay as the victim and Fox as his ungrateful, entitled protégé. Bay ultimately fired Fox, the two parting ways for a time before uniting for another blockbuster project with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but the image of the actress that the director had painted was now burned into the public’s collective consciousness.
It didn’t help that Fox’s follow-up film, Jennifer’s Body, performed poorly at the box office and was marketed to an audience of horny teenage boys despite the movie sporting a hardcore feminist slant and a subversive script from Diablo Cody. Jennifer’s Body tanked because the studio didn’t know how to sell it because the horror genre had yet to be appreciated because female-led films were still a rarity and female-led feminist films were nonexistent.
I’ve placed plenty of blame when it comes to the ostracization of Fox on Bay’s shoulders, I think rightly so, but he’s the symptom of a larger disease, one that’s still infecting this emboldened new feminist movement we're living in.
Fox recently commented on her experience in Hollywood, the vitriol and hatred she endured in her early years and, perhaps most tragically, her opinion that she wouldn’t be welcomed by the #MeToo movement. In an interview with the New York Times, Fox had this to say about her public persona:
Even with the #MeToo movement, and everyone coming out with stories — and one could assume that I probably have quite a few stories, and I do — I didn’t speak out for many reasons. I just didn’t think based on how I’d been received by people, and by feminists, that I would be a sympathetic victim. And I thought if ever there were a time where the world would agree that it’s appropriate to victim-shame someone, it would be when I come forward with my story.
In a way, Fox is probably right.
Feminism has come a long way since a decade ago, but there are plenty of examples of it falling short, especially when it comes to the stories of high-profile women. For every Christine Blasey Ford, there’s a Janice Dickinson, a Rose McGowan, an Angelina Jolie – a woman not deemed relatable or likable enough to warrant the same kind of support enjoyed by her more mainstream, cookie-cutter peers. Fox is one of these women, at no fault of her own. She was introduced as a sex-symbol, she was reduced even further to that most dreaded of Hollywood labels “difficult.” Only now, at 32-years-old, a mother of three, and a producer of her own investigative series on the History Channel is she beginning to take back a piece of herself, to shape her own image with an integrity and grace not afforded to her by the so-called mentors of her youth.
Fox, with her beauty, her wit, her fearless attitude, was seen as something to be possessed, to be owned, as so many young women are. She was forced to pick her battles, to compromise her safety, to relinquish a sense of comfort to ingratiate herself to her male colleagues. When she rebelled, when she fought against the notion that all she could ever be was a sex symbol, she was punished for it, not just by powerful men in Hollywood, but by the public at large. Men couldn’t accept the fact that she existed as anything other than a vehicle for their own salacious fantasies and women couldn’t accept the fact that their prejudice had been unfounded, that the insults they’d used to justify a sense of jealousy and malice instilled in them by the patriarchy towards this lovely, successful, brazen young woman didn’t actually apply. The villain we wanted to exist, this mean-girl type, this “bitch” was a figment of our imagination, one we were told to create by men who found they couldn’t control a woman they desired, a woman they thought existed to be desired.
But Megan Fox doesn’t exist to fulfill fantasies. She’s not here to be drooled over, to be coveted or spurned, to be the punching bag for our own inadequacies and shortcomings. She’s a woman, just trying to have what she’s owed: respect, autonomy, and maybe a bit of understanding for her mistakes.
Oh, and she’s owed an apology. From all of us.