Ten years later, we revisit Robert Rodriguez‘s Grindhouse film in a whole new context.
In 1997, Rose McGowan was blacklisted from auditioning for any movies produced by the Weinsteins. In 2007, she became the ultimate badass… in a Weinstein movie.
But let’s back up here for a second.
If you’ve been paying any attention to the news or social media chatter these last couple months, you’re surely aware that there’s a healing fire blazing deep within the heart of Hollywood right now. In the wake of multiple women, including Rose McGowan, coming forward with sexual abuse allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein, several other prominent figures in Hollywood have also been outed as vile predators who have abused their power to prey upon women and men alike over the years – names such as Kevin Spacey and Dustin Hoffman, for starters.
But it all started with Harvey Weinstein.
Rose McGowan’s nightmarish encounter with Weinstein took place in a hotel room during the Sundance Film Festival in 1997, and McGowan bravely coming forward with her story has allowed others to tell their own stories. In many ways, McGowan has become the leader of this particular revolution, using her large fanbase and following on social media to champion all women to speak up and take a stand. Whereas there was fear before, now there’s a safety net. And we’re seeing real change as a result.
What does any of this have to do with Planet Terror, you ask?
Last month, Robert Rodriguez published a piece on Variety about McGowan’s story from his perspective, revealing that McGowan had told him what Weinstein had done to her way back in 2005. At the time, Rodriguez says, there wasn’t much he could do (McGowan had signed a NDA years prior, meaning she wasn’t even supposed to be telling Rodriguez her story), but that didn’t stop him from firing a shot at his longtime producer and hitting him where it really hurt: calling Weinstein out in a movie produced by… the Weinstein Company.
That movie, of course, was Grindhouse, a double feature collaboration between Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, and contributing filmakers such as Edgar Wright, Eli Roth and Rob Zombie.
“Incensed at what I heard, I told Rose that she was not blacklisted from MY movies and that Harvey couldn’t tell me who to cast,” Rodriguez wrote in the aforementioned piece for Variety. “The reason was that Harvey didn’t work on my movies; I made movies all those years for Dimension and Bob Weinstein. So I explained that if I cast her in my next film, Harvey couldn’t suddenly tell me no, because my first question would be ‘Oh, really? Why can’t I cast her?’ And I was sure he would not want to tell me why.”
He continued, “I then revealed to Rose right then and there that I was about to start writing a movie with Quentin Tarantino, a double feature throwback to 70’s exploitation movies, and that if she was interested, I would write her a BAD ASS character and make her one of the leads. I wanted her to have a starring role in a big movie to take her OFF the blacklist, and the best part is that we would have Harvey’s new Weinstein Company pay for the whole damn thing.”
And so McGowan accepted the deal: Rodriguez would write the most badass role imaginable for her in his new movie, and Harvey Weinstein had no choice but to finance it.
“Since the Weinstein’s had a first look at any project of mine or Quentin’s, I knew they’d never let this project go to another studio,” Rodriguez explains. “Casting Rose in a leading role in my next movie felt like the right move to make at the time – to literally make [Harvey] pay.”
In Planet Terror, McGowan plays the role of Cherry Darling, a down-on-her-luck go-go dancer who loses her leg right at the start of the zombie apocalypse. In the wake of her life-altering nightmare, Cherry, in Rodriguez’s own words, “transforms into a superhero that rights wrongs, battles adversity and mows down rapists.” In a film full of badass characters, it’s Cherry who stands out from the pack, literally being outfitted with a high-powered gun as a replacement leg and rising up the ranks as one of horror’s most iconic heroines.
Revisiting the film with this newly-learned context in mind, one sequence in particular appears to have been a direct shot at Weinstein. Quentin Tarantino plays a character literally dubbed “The Rapist” in Planet Terror, and he has his sights squarely set on McGowan’s Cherry. A super sleazy rapist on a power trip, Tarantino sure seems to be playing Weinstein himself, and it’s likely no coincidence that the character eventually turns into a literal mass of disgusting goo. Infected by the film’s zombie-like virus, “the rapist” attempts to rape Cherry in his final moments on screen, but his dick gruesomely melts off and hits the floor. Cherry then points her machine gun leg directly at his crotch, blasting her would-be attacker to kingdom come.
That scene, we now know, is what Rodriguez and McGowan intended Planet Terror to be on the whole: an ass-kicking, guns-blazing attack on a vile, disgusting rapist.
Almost prophetically, it’s Cherry Darling who leads her fellow survivors out of the apocalypse and into a better, more peaceful world at the end of Planet Terror. In Rodriguez’s super entertaining homage to retro B-movies, he notes in the Variety piece, the heroic Cherry “leads the lost and weary into a land of hope,” making McGowan’s character in the film not all that different from who the actress has become in real life here in 2017. When Cherry puts on a pair of sunglasses and surveys the fiery carnage she reigned down upon the infected towards the end of Planet Terror, it’s hard not to think about McGowan herself in a similar context, standing brave and tall amid the cleansing fires raging through Hollywood at this very moment.
“I’ll admit it felt really good at the time to realize we could use our art form to help Rose right a serious wrong in both how he victimized her years earlier, but also what Harvey was doing to a wonderful actress by blacklisting her and keeping her from working with filmmakers that would have wanted to work with her,” Rodriguez recalls, looking back. “At the time, it was the only thing we could do.”
Ten years ago, Harvey Weinstein paid for his actions. Literally. And that film, Planet Terror, can now be viewed as the first shot against a system that has long allowed terrible people to get away with terrible things. But not anymore, says star Rose McGowan and her real-life “Rose Army.”