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Sexism, Megan Fox and the tragic underestimation of 'Jennifer's Body'

in retrospect

<p>Megan Fox is known as a brunette bombshell, but she has always striven to be seen as more than just a pretty face.</p>

Megan Fox is known as a brunette bombshell, but she has always striven to be seen as more than just a pretty face.

Megan Fox has been through a lot. 

When rumors about Megan Fox getting botox emerged in 2011, the actress posted a FaceBook photo album titled “Things You Can’t Do With Your Face When You Have Botox.” In one photo, she furrows her brows. In another, she stares in fake disbelief as she points to a wrinkle on her forehead, sending a succinct message: Yes, Megan Fox is a human and she has wrinkles.

In an industry where complicity is the norm, Megan Fox has continually challenged her popular perceptions as a sex symbol. Having publicly addressed her objectification, bisexual identity and her experience with sexual assault in the entertainment industry, her name is routinely featured in conversations about womanhood and sexuality. Her unignorable yet fading status as a sex symbol is a case study in how female bodies and narratives are commodified and appropriated to serve male interests in Hollywood.

When “Jennifer’s Body” was released in 2009, critics panned the movie. It was conveniently easy to criticize: Megan Fox’s main character role was apparently too sexualized, too trashy — it was “‘Twilight’ for boys.” The LA Times called it “self-conscious splatter over a sorely lackluster scare flick.” Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 45 percent rating. 

The film revolves around a complex, implicitly queer relationship between the geeky Anita “Needy” (Amanda Seyfried) and cheerleader Jennifer Check (Megan Fox). One night, Jennifer finds herself getting into a van — described by Needy as a “white molester van with no windows” — and comes back a changed woman. Now possessed by a demon, she craves human flesh, hunting down boys at her school to satiate her satanic hunger. 

At surface level, the film is a gripping teen horror movie about sex and hormones, even if “cheerleader eats boys” isn’t a particularly thought-provoking plotline.The marketing of the film seemed to reflect that: trailers teased an intimate lesbian kiss between Seyfried and Fox, while promotional posters sold the raunchy schoolgirl allure of Jennifer Check, proclaiming “She’s Got a Taste for Bad Boys.” The way it was advertised, “Jennifer’s Body” was a straight male’s fantasy — nothing more, nothing less. Due to this mishandled marketing, viewers were already predisposed to critique the film through the lens of sexualization and objectification. Exploiting Megan Fox’s status as a sex symbol, the woman-led, woman-directed movie was misconstrued to appeal to straight male desires. It was a box office flop, grossing $31.5 million worldwide with a $16 million budget

At the same time that Fox was doing press for “Jennifer’s Body,” she was receiving backlash for speaking out against “Transformers” director Michael Bay, saying he was “a nightmare to work with.” In addition to the pre-existing pressure faced by Megan Fox to ideate herself as the sex symbol, Fox was deliberately blacklisted and cursed out by Bay’s crew members for breaking protocol in Hollywood’s sea of complicity. Soon after, it was announced that Rosie Huntington-Whitely would be replacing Fox in “Transformers 3.” The rapid exile of Fox and replacement with Huntington-Whitely is a testament to how Hollywood exploits and exerts control over women interchangeably. 

In a September 2020 interview with Eli Roth on his “History of Horror: Uncut” podcast, Fox reflected on her reputation at the time of the 2009 movie release and its role in downplaying the success of the movie. “A lot of it was just about my image at the time,” she said. “The movie never really stood a chance. I was being vilified a little bit when the movie was getting ready for its release… People definitely viewed me as negative or having bad intentions.” 

Only in recent discourse, however, have people begun to fully realize what the film signifies and what it says about queer womanhood. In 2018, the Me Too movement provided ample opportunity for viewers of the movie to refocus their lens towards feminism, consent and power. In exaggerating the importance of Megan Fox’s physical attractiveness in the film, marketers and movie critics alike diluted the visions of director Karyn Kusama and writer Diablo Cody. 

Megan Fox’s narrative of exclusion from Hollywood isn’t unique. As a sex symbol, she was forced into a mold of what being “sexy” meant — and when she didn’t squeeze into that mold, her image was manipulated and tarnished forever by the men that held the strings.

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