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As 20th Century Fox’s X-Men: Apocalypse stormed theaters over the long weekend, critics took aim at billboards featuring Oscar Isaac’s Apocalypse choking Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique.
Among them was Rose McGowan, who elaborated on a May 25 Facebook post to THR: “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. There is no context in the ad, just a woman getting strangled. 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?”
She continued: “I’ll close with a text my friend sent, a conversation with his daughter. 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?”
In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Fox apologized for the billboard: “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 image has met with criticism on the East Coast as well. New York blogger EV Grieve posted a photo of the poster above a subway station in the city at First Avenue and 14th Street that had been covered with eight pieces of paper that connected to say, “This violence in my kid’s face is not okay.”
“I do see it as problematic,” says Jennifer McCleary-Sills, director of gender violence and rights for the International Center for Research on Women, a global research institute that seeks to empower women, advance gender equality and fight poverty in the developing world. “I understand that some might not see it as an issue because it is a film about violence … with male and female characters who are warriors and fighting each other as equals.”
She continued that even though the image depicts a fictitious scene in a fantasy film and features characters who are “mutants,” it can still have an affect on anyone who sees it.
“Here’s the thing: Where do we draw the line?” she asks. “They morph into humans and most of their interactions are similar to what humans would have while as mutants. … The fantasy life can involve violence against women, and that shows how normalized it is. The argument that it shouldn’t be offensive because they are mutants doesn’t hold any water, … and what really is the challenge here is the intentionality of it. You could have chosen any from the thousands of images, but you chose this one. Whose attention did you want to get and to what end?”
She adds that the “striking image” of Apocalypse choking Mystique is a reminder of how violence against women is used as a default and “seen as sexy for all the wrong reasons.”
“There are no silver bullets,” McCleary-Sills adds. “I’m glad that a bit of a stink has been raised about this and that people are being provoked to think about why this image isn’t OK and why [the studio] could’ve done better.”
Devin Faraci, editor-in-chief of the blog Birth.Movies.Death agrees, calling the billboard “tone deaf as hell.”
“Images of violence against women are pretty common in the X-Men universe, which is a pretty violent universe. The problem is taking this one image out of context and having it be an image that is not fantastical in nature. Setting aside that Apocalypse and Mystique look like Smurfs, it’s just an image of a big guy choking out a smaller woman. I have wracked my brains trying to come up with an example of a marketing image like this featuring two men, and I’ve come up empty,” he tells THR.
Should the studio have picked another image? Writer and editor Jay Edidin, an X-Men expert who is one half of the podcast “Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men,” says “unquestionably.”
“It’s gratuitous, it’s offensive in completely useless ways. Offensive isn’t always necessarily bad, but this is offensive in ways that serve absolutely no purpose, and while it does depict a scene from the actual film, it’s also a terrible representation of the movie as a whole,” Edidin notes.
June 3, 12 pm Updated with Fox statement.
A version of this story first appeared in the June 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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