Image courtesy of HBO Documentary Films.

Phoenix Rising: A Powerful Documentary on Surviving Abuse and Trauma

HBO’s new documentary Phoenix Rising, directed by Amy Berg, highlights how Brian Warner, who was 36 at that time, pursued and 18 year old Evan Rachel Wood.

TW: This article includes details of sexual assault, grooming, and rape.

In an Instagram post, Evan Rachel Wood named Brian Warner, known to the world as Marilyn Manson, as the man who abused her. She accused him of grooming, manipulating, love bombing, gaslighting, and exploiting her over four years in the relationship. HBO’s new documentary Phoenix Rising, directed by Amy Berg, highlights how Warner, who was 36 at that time, pursued her when she was only 18 years old. The documentary delves into their relationship. How Warner manipulated and raped Wood on the set of his music video “Heart-Shaped Glasses”. Eventually we see Wood getting out of the cycle of abuse and helping other victims of domestic violence. 

The documentary opens with Wood looking at pictures of herself when she was young. Reading journal entries to her friend and activist Illma Gore. Through archival footage and animation sequences, Wood recalls her childhood. Her parents’ troubled marriage, moving to LA, and starting her acting career as a teenager. As she began her career, Wood did not speak about anything that made her uncomfortable on set. This was a directive. She was cast in movie roles that were not appropriate for someone her age and was heavily sexualized by media. 

Then comes Warner, who after meeting her at Chateau Marmont, claimed to have seen Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen. Under the guise of a friendship, he wanted to collaborate on a project. The project was Lewis Caroll’s “Phantasmagoria” and Warner struck up a friendship with her. Married to Dita Von Teese, Warner was more interested in a teen Wood. Soon after meeting Wood he divorced Von Teese and began a relationship with Wood. The relationship gradually turned abusive, to the point where Warner controlled every aspect of her life. 

Evan Rachel Wood (right) and Nikki Reed (left) in 'Thirteen.'
Image courtesy of Insider.

Phoenix Rising is an emotional and heartbreaking story. We walk with a woman trapped in a relationship with a predator, years older and abusive beyond imaginable. One thing the documentary does is explain the different types of abuse that Warner displayed towards Wood and others. In an emotional scene, Warner’s victims sit and share stories of the trauma they went through in their relationships. From keeping them locked up in a cage, threatening them with knives, and spewing antisemitic hate (Wood is Jewish), it’s evident the victims are still dealing with the trauma of the abuse.

Since naming her abuser out to the public, Warner has denied the allegations and filed a lawsuit against her. In an Instagram post, Warner claims that his art and life have always been the topic of controversy. He states that the recent claims regarding Wood’s allegations were false. He continued, “My intimate relationships have always been entirely consensual with like-minded partners.”. Warner’s booking agent and record label have dropped him, following Wood’s accusations.

Wood mentions that she was often sexualized as a young teenager and actress. She further mentions another experience on the set of Warner’s “Heart-Shaped Glasses” where she was raped. At 20-years-old, Wood claims she was coerced by Warner to perform a sexual act under false pretences. Prior to shooting the music video, they discussed a “simulated sex scene”. However, during filming Warner “started to penetrate me for real”. Wood claims she was fed absinthe and was unable to objections to his advances because she was barely conscious. On the set, the cast and crew reportedly felt uncomfortable, but none of them stopped Warner. 

Evan Rachel Wood in an interview scene from HBO's 'Phoenix Rising.'
Image courtesy of Glamour.

This sexualization and mistreatment of teenagers in Hollywood is common. Natalie Portman, who turned 12 on the set of Léon: The Professional, remembers opening a “rape fantasy” letter from a man a year later. Later, on her 18th birthday, a countdown began on a radio channel, indicating that she was legal to sleep with. In a CNN article, Natalie explains, critics talked about her inappropriately. Many stating that if she were to express herself sexually, she was inviting men to objectify her. 

Phoenix Rising looks at Wood and Gore’s journey to extend the statute of limitations. They hope to do this by testifying in front of the California Senate Public Safety Committee. Wood and Gore began work to change the law after learning that she wouldn’t be able to press any charges against Warner due to the statute of limitations that had long passed. During the testimony, Wood went into detail about her relationship with Warner. The Phoenix Act is now law. It extends the statute of limitations to three to five years. It also requires police officers to receive more training regarding intimate partner violence. 

Wood’s tale of survival and activism is a powerful story and her courage shines throughout the two-episodic documentary. Phoenix Rising highlights the importance of centring the voices of victims and goes deep into the abuse by Warner. Wood’s fame doesn’t keep her safe. Death threats are a regular part of her life. Woods is also afraid of retaliation from Warner’s fans. The aftershocks of her trauma are still present, as she explains the many forms of abuse she went through in the hands of Warner. Phoenix Rising emphasises how important it is to protect women from domestic abuse and sexual violence. Unfortunately there is a long way to go.

For more from Nuha, check out her review of The Boys: Diabolical here.

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