So … When Are We All Going to Apologize to Megan Fox for What We Let Hollywood Do to Her?
Not me; I was on the right side of history on this one.
In a recent interview with Prestige Hong Kong, Megan Fox made comments about the way women are undervalued in film. She was incredibly on point, and I couldn’t help but think about how her career has gone. Megan Fox is an actress with a very mixed public reception, and a limited filmography despite her being fan-cast in multiple projects for years. In many ways, Fox has been dealt a bad hand when it comes to her public image because for much of her career was defined by the lecherous gaze of one man, and once he cut her off, no one tried to help her.
Framing Megan Fox
Like many people, I was first actively exposed to Fox in her first Transformers movie (although she had been in Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen before), and I was smitten. I was fifteen, and I thought she was the most gorgeous woman in the world, next to my girl Angelina Jolie (someone Fox was often compared to). I also liked that her character, Mikaela Banes, was a badass who was good with cars. From then on, I was a Fox fan. I even sat through the second Transformers monstrosity, spending the entire time wondering why Shila LeBeouf’s character couldn’t commit to Megan Fox. Like bro are you okay? When I heard she had been replaced in the third movie, it killed any interest I had in watching it. Since I was a teenager at the time, I had no idea that outside of my little fangirl bubble that most of Hollywood was dragging Megan Fox for being a hyper-sexualized model-actress—as though that’s her fault.
In her amazing series “The Whole Plate,” video essayist Lindsey Ellis spends episode 7 discussing Megan Fox in the Transformers series and how, even though Mikaela is the best-written character in the franchise, that’s lost because of how Megan Fox is framed in the film.
As Ellis points out in the video, Mikaela (on paper) is a smart, working-class girl with a juvie past due to issues with her father, and throughout the course of the first movie, she discovers her self-worth and becomes a hero in her own way. Yet, even in the scene where Mikaela shows off her knowledge and says, “Men don’t like it when you know about cars than they do,” the camera pans over her body so that a large part of the audience doesn’t hear anything she says. So, despite the fact that she “is the only character who self-actualizes not because others tell her to … but because she realizes her self-worth on her own,” she’s only remembered for her body by far too many people, through no fault of her own.
This framing has followed Fox everywhere and has allowed every statement she’s made, good or bad, to be viewed within the veil of “all you are is a sex object; your opinions do not matter.” Megan Fox, because of Transformers, became known as eye-candy-only, and the fact that Fox felt that her best way to be a role-model for young girls was to be comfortable with her sexuality led the public to believe that, just like Mikaela, her sexuality was for them and not an extension of her own opinions or values.
So when she spoke out against Michael Bay, it was easy for people to shake their heads at her because who did she think she was?
Bay vs. Fox
In 2009, Fox gave an interview with Wonderland Magazine, in which she said that Bay was “Like Hitler” on set. Now, this statement was insensitive as hell, and it was not okay. Fox has put her foot in her mouth at times—her comments about her bisexuality were messy—but considering we have had celebrities say and do much worse things and have flourishing careers (half the cast of Daddy’s Home 2 proves that), the amount of venom she got for it was deeply unfair, especially considering all the things she brought up about how Bay treated her:
MH: WELL, I WONDER: DOES BEING A BETTER ACTOR MATTER IF YOU’RE JUST REALLY HOT?
MF: Yeah, it does matter. Not to Michael Bay because those are literally his directions sometimes. “Be Hot.” I’ve had that note on set before. “Mike,” I’ll say, “Who am I talking to? Where am I supposed to be looking at?” And he responds, “Just be sexy.” I get mad when people talk to me like that.
MH: WHEN DID YOU REALIZE YOU WERE HOT?
MF: I don’t think that’s something that normal people ever realize. As a female, you struggle with constant insecurities and body image. So there’s never a day you wake up and think, “I really did it today. This is a hot day.” That doesn’t happen.
MH: HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT MICHAEL BAY TELLING YOU TO BE HOT?
MF: All of us who are working right now, we all do the same shit, it’s just part of how you sell yourself. Because you’re a product. All of us are. Shia’s a product, a totally different kind. Rob Pattinson is a fucking product. It’s what the industry’s always been.
The entire interview is a mess, with the author clearly fanboying Fox throughout. It’s really sort of annoying, but Fox’s comments on being a “product” deserve some thought. In a 2009 interview with Jimmy Kimmel, she talked about when she was 15 years old and Bay had her in a bikini and six-inch heels as an extra on the set for Bad Boys II. Because she was 15 and too young to drink at the bar, the “solution” was “to then have me dancing underneath a waterfall getting soaking wet. And that’s… At 15. I was in 10th grade. So that’s sort of a microcosm of how Bay’s mind works.”
Even Shia LaBeouf told the L.A. Times how uncomfortable Fox was on the set with how she was treated: “This is a girl who was taken from complete obscurity and placed in a sex-driven role in front of the whole world and told she was the sexiest woman in America. And she had a hard time accepting it.” The list of Bay’s grossness with women goes on and on before and after Fox.
Yet, when Fox was dropped from the Transformers franchise, enough people bought into the Bay’s image of her that they couldn’t see past it—especially after Jennifer’s Body.
Jennifer’s Body and Box Office Poison
Jennifer’s Body was Fox’s first movie outside of the Transformers series, and it gave her a shot to be a “serious” actress. It was written by Diablo Cody, who was riding high on Juno’s success two years before. Despite putting Fox forward on the posters and even putting a queer-baity girl-on-girl kiss into every trailer (à la Black Swan), it underperformed at the box office. While the critics put the blame on the unevenness of the narrative and actually praised Fox’s performance, it combined with her being dropped from the Transformers franchise to create the idea that she was “box-office poison.” Nevermind that they were marketing an R-rated movie to teenage boys, who couldn’t go see it without a parent. That, followed by Jonah Hex—probably the only movie that really was a huge misstep—and the bankability that Fox had from Transformers was gone.
She would be fancast as Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and even Wonder Woman from time to time, but people did not take her seriously. From 2010 to 2013, she was in films, but nothing exciting. In fact, the biggest thing she did in those years was the “Love the Way You Lie,” Eminem ft. Rihanna video.
So why were people so unwilling to work with Fox? Why did no other director see her and think, “Hmm maybe she needs her Monster movie moment?” And why didn’t feminists commend her for standing up to as well-known and documented a pig as Michael Bay?
Because she’s not the right type of victim.
A New York Times article from November 2009, by Lynn Hirschberg, contained this comment about the lack of ticket sales for Jennifer’s Body: “… men did not buy many tickets. Neither did women, who tend to prefer movies that feature more approachable, less vixenish actresses, like Sandra Bullock or Jennifer Aniston.” [Emphasis mine.]
We may not like to admit it, but in feminist circles, especially back then, respectability politics were rampant. In 2009, Fox’s loud, queer, and (awesomely) unapologetic attitude were seen to play into the male gaze because of how she looked. She was not going to be anyone’s sex-positive role model. Fox said in the same Times interview, “Girls think I’m a slut, and I’ve been in the same relationship since I was 18. The problem is, if they think you’re attractive, you’re either stupid or a whore or a dumb whore.”
Fox was too outspoken for the era—too unpolished to be taken seriously—and her acting abilities were never seen as strong enough to escape her bombshell image, unlike Angelina Jolie and Charlize Theron. Even though similar male and female actors have gotten multiple chances, Fox never got them.
Then the turtles came.
Back to Bay
When Fox left the Bay camp, she was 23 years old. When she returned to Bay for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie in 2014, she was married and a mother of three. The wild days of Megan Fox were gone and instead, in the time she stopped making movies, she found a contentment that clearly wasn’t there while she was in the public eye.
Still, she ended up returning to Bay—the man she’d compared to Hitler and made disparaging comments about—and honestly … who could blame her? Who was giving her the chance? Even in those movies, Fox is clearly one of the highlights, even though the camera still can’t help but turn her into a sex object.
Her stint on New Girl was well received, and Jennifer’s Body is now considered a cult classic by many younger queer girls. People now are able to say that despite how they may have thought then, in retrospect, Fox was often the best part of a really shit film.
So What’s the Truth?
Fox has always been outspoken about her feelings on her fame and what that meant to her. She was in her early 20s when she was placed into the spotlight, expected to be nothing more than a pin-up girl and she, for the most part, went with it because it was what she had.
Fox was always anxious in the spotlight, and playing an exaggeration of herself was a way of coping with that. Yet the content of what she was saying, over the top or not, had truth in it.
“Sometimes I say things that I think are obviously sarcastic and people take them quite literally. In America we’re still very uptight about sexuality: it’s considered scandalous for women to be sexual or speak about sex in a humorous way. For some reason it makes people very uncomfortable, possibly because our society is still very tied to archaic biblical principles that we try to force on each other and force on our children. It’s very unfortunate because men are embraced for their sexual prowess and women discouraged from it” (via Telegraph)
If a female celebrity said that now, we would praise them for being empowered sexually. That was not the case for Fox several years ago.
Now in her 30s and a mother, Fox still finds herself in the same box she as back in 2007, and that is frustrating to watch because, as someone who has been a fan of hers for years, I have seen men rise up from the ashes of much bigger bullshit. Taylor Kitsch, while talented, has not done anything of worth since Friday Night Lights, has several box office bombs and yet is going to be headlining a show on HBO. Mark Walhberg is an unfunny, talentless man who blinded a Vietnamese man in a racist, drunken rage, and yet gets to be in movie after movie. Mel Gibson is on his comeback tour right now, starring as the “cool,” “hot,” “badass” grandfather in Daddy’s Home 2 (gag me) and was able to get an Oscar nomination for Hacksaw Ridge—this is despite him saying that he wanted his then-girlfriend to be “raped by a pack of [n******].”
When women fail and make mistakes, it follows them forever. It taints them. A woman enters this industry a sex object, and unless she “proves” herself, she is a sex object for life, and no more—yet a man can be a sexual and a talented star.
Megan Fox was never deserving of the petty blacklist she was put through, nor the dismissive comments people made about her. While she has never painted herself as the victim, it was still a shit show and deeply unfair. As we talk about the way women are treated in Hollywood, we don’t discuss how we dissect actresses’ value based on what they look like and how talented we think they are. We still subscribe to the “ingenue” and the “femme fatale” and allow PR to promote those ideas as if it makes us care about actresses more.
I hope that whatever projects Fox gets now will allow her to be the funny badass she has always been. Not only is the potential is there, but she has long paid her dues for the opportunity. It’s time to recognize how everyone, prompted by how she was portrayed on-screen, painted Megan Fox as a mindless sex object, instead of continuing to place the blame on her.
“I have to pull back a little bit now. I do live in a glass box. And I am on display for men to pay to look at me. And that bothers me. I don’t want to live that character.” (Megan Fox)
(image: Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com)
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