Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Megan Fox.
Specifically, I’m interested in how she was perceived during her peak years of fame, and how much of this perception seemed drastically skewed by gender politics. I’m not here to make the case that she’s deserving of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but it seems clear now that when Jennifer’s Body (2009) opened in theaters, many critics and audiences seemed to have already made up their minds that Fox’s work wasn’t worthy of sustained, critical analysis, but instead only deserved scorn and marginalization.
Look, Jennifer’s Body is a severely underrated and wonderfully subversive film, while Fox’s outstanding performance in the titular role is criminally underrated. One of these days I’ll collect my thoughts and review the film properly, but for now I have plenty to say about one aspect that unfairly impacted how the film was received: The Megan Fox Media Sensation, circa 2009.
People either forget or never realized it to begin with, but Fox is electrifying in the film, turning in a truly jaw dropping performance. Why didn’t anyone seem to focus on that, though? I’m convinced the movie tanked with critics and audiences in 2009 because of how Fox was perceived by both the media and the masses. In ads, the studio seemed to be taking the title literally by promoting Fox’s body, not the film itself. Her public persona as the “hot vixen” was and still is steeped in patriarchal gender bias. Certainly, she played into the perception with her comments and acting choices, but she was only a kid! Why were we holding her more accountable than the male filmmakers and producers who were taking advantage of her? Easy: because that’s what we always do to women.
This brings us to Michael Bay, director of big, dumb, stoopid popcorn movies aimed at pimply faced fifteen year old boys. As part of Fox’s Transformers (2007) audition, Bay made the teenage actress wash his Ferrari while he filmed her. For real. In a roundabout way, Bay even sheepishly confirmed the story once.
Fox went on to say that Bay behaved like Hitler on set. Poor analogy? Definitely. Then the story seemed to become about her eccentricity and questionable comments, instead of Bay’s underlying creepiness. Certainly, most people seem to have a low opinion of Bay, but as often happens the focus shifted to the woman’s behavior and comments. Words like “crazy” and “dumb” were thrown around with impunity when discussing Fox. It was all pretty clear: she was famous because men desired her; when she expressed herself in ways that made these men uncomfortable, she became less desirous and more expendable. Paging Dr. Freud, paging Dr. Freud. Hello, Madonna-whore complex, it sucks to see you again. We have to stop meeting like this.
Then Fox made Jennifer’s Body—a film literally about male fear and dread of female sexuality. Is it any wonder it disappeared quickly? 2009 audiences and critics were not ready for this, to their/our eternal discredit. The Fox backlash, along with the Diablo Cody backlash (she wrote the screenplay), combined to torpedo the film’s chances for a fair assessment.
In some ways, 2009 feels like fifty years ago. I’m sure that if the film opened today, it would be a sleeper hit. As it is, one day they’ll be teaching it at the intersections of cinema studies, film theory, and women’s studies. When my daughter is old enough to be a knowledgeable horror film geek (if my influence has any effect and if that’s what she chooses for herself, of course), she’ll never know a world where this movie wasn’t a cult classic. I’ll tell her how it once was. She’ll smile, and then say, “You guys were idiots.”