Fox apologizes for X-Men choking billboard after Rose McGowan criticism


20th Century Fox has apologized for their marketing of the upcoming film, X-Men Apocalypse, which plastered an image of a giant man choking a naked, blue Jennifer Lawrence on thousands of billboards, benches, and buses across North America.

Featuring Oscar Isaac as villain Apocalypse, and Jennifer Lawrence as classic X-Men character Mystique the image is striking and disturbing for its blunt depiction of male violence against women. There are no flashy superhero mutant powers on display — only a woman in total submission, being strangled by a stone-faced juggernaut of masculinity, sometimes accompanied by the tagline: “Only the strong survive.”

Actress Rose McGowan was having none of it. McGowan, who’s becoming known for speaking out against male Hollywood bullshit, commented to the Hollywood Reporter:

“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… 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?”

After McGowan’s comments, the ad drew intense criticism on social media, prompting Fox to apologize. In a statement, Fox said, “We didn’t immediately realize the upsetting connotation of this image in print form.”

It should be obvious why the image of a man choking a woman would be construed as offensive, but at least Fox says they are taking steps to remove the offending ads, so they deserve some credit there.

Many people, however, defended the movie ad, claiming there was no sexism involved. William Hicks writes, for libertarian news site HeatStreet:

“But what is so ‘casual’ about an alien super-mutant strangling a regular old shapeshifting mutant? It’s an action movie with action heroes and things are going to get violent… Should the women in superhero films be away from the action, sewing uniforms and baking pies? No, they should be out front kicking ass — even if that means they may occasionally be struck by a man.”

This argument ignores the fact that, as McGowan pointed out, there is no awesome superhero battle context for the violence portrayed on the billboard — it’s “just a woman getting strangled.” Furthermore, the imagery sexualizes feminine subordination and masculine domination in that violence.

Mystique’s character is legendary for being a nerd-culture sex icon (which makes sense when you consider that she’s pretty much naked all the time). My friends who are too young to remember a time before the ubiquity of Internet porn also inform me that choking has become a fairly commonplace sex act among young people. Even Elle magazine recently recognized the rise of the choking-as-sexy trend. In the X-Men ad, Mystique’s face is slack, her lips pursed, and eyelids lowered (as if she’s giving bedroom-eyes), while in a position of total vulnerability to the dominating male figure.

Fox elaborated, saying, “We apologize for our actions and would never condone violence against women.” It is probably true that Fox would never officially “condone” violence against women — but they have shown that they will, however, sexualize it and make money off it.

Susan Cox

Susan Cox is a feminist writer and academic living in the United States. She teaches in Philosophy.