If you don’t know anything about Promising Young Woman, you aren’t alone. However, there is a scandal erupting around the movie that provides more evidence that Hollywood is now marketing their films by accusing people of racism and in this case misogyny.
It’s a small independent film produced by Margot Robbie and her LuckyChap Entertainment company and stars British actress Carrie Mulligan. It’s also the directorial debut of Emerald Fennel.
Here’s the official synopsis:
“From groundbreaking director Emerald Fennel comes a delicious new take on revenge. Everyone said Cassie was a promising young woman … until a mysterious event abruptly derailed her future. But nothing in Cassie’s life is what it appears to be: she’s wickedly smart, tantalizing cunning, and she’s living a secret double life by night. Now, an unexpected encounter is about to give Cassie a chance to right the wrongs of the past in this thrilling and wildly entertaining story.”
The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival back on January 25, 2020 and was subsequently released to theaters in the United States on December 25, 2020.
Variety’s Dennis Harvey reviewed the film in January 2020. He wrote, “Mulligan, a fine actress, seems a bit of an odd choice as this admittedly many-layered apparent femme fatale — Margot Robbie is a producer here, and one can (perhaps too easily) imagine the role might once have been intended for her.”
“Whereas with this star, Cassie wears her pickup-bait gear like bad drag; even her long blonde hair seems a put-on. The flat American accent she delivers in her lowest voice register likewise seems a bit meta, though it’s not quite clear what the quote marks around this performance signify,” Harvey continued.
Harvey then went on to praise Mulligan, “Still, like everything here, this turn is skillful, entertaining and challenging, even when the eccentric method obscures the precise message. “Promising Young Woman” is often at its most inspired when contradicting itself — one of the grimmest scenes here is accompanied by something utterly incongruous from “The King and I,” and the frisson between image and song is so flummoxing it’s rather brilliant.”
There didn’t seem to be any controversy around the review at the time. Just as a reminder it was written over a year ago in January 2020.
However, that all changed when Mulligan spoke to the New York Times in December 2020 as the film was about to hit theaters in the United States.
Mulligan told Kyle Buchanan of the New York Times, “I read the Variety review, because I’m a weak person. And I took issue with it.”
She continued, “It felt like it was basically saying that I wasn’t hot enough to pull off this kind of ruse.”
Mulligan would later add, “It wasn’t some sort of ego-wounding thing — like, I fully can see that Margot Robbie is a goddess.”
She elaborated, “It drove me so crazy. I was like, ‘Really? For this film, you’re going to write something that is so transparent? Now? In 2020?’ I just couldn’t believe it.”
“We don’t allow women to look normal anymore, or like a real person. Why does every woman who’s ever onscreen have to look like a supermodel? That has shifted into something where the expectation of beauty and perfection onscreen has gotten completely out of control,” she stated.
She concluded, “I just don’t think that’s really what storytelling or acting needs to be about. Things can be beautiful without being perfect.”
Following Mulligan’s comments Variety would add an editor’s note to Harvey’s review. It reads, “Variety sincerely apologizes to Carey Mulligan and regrets the insensitive language and insinuation in our review of “Promising Young Woman” that minimized her daring performance.”
Harvey would respond to Mulligan’s accusations of sexism and insinuation of misogyny.
Speaking with The Guardian, Harvey stated, “I did not say or even mean to imply Mulligan is ‘not hot enough’ for the role.”
“I’m a 60-year-old gay man. I don’t actually go around dwelling on the comparative hotnesses of young actresses, let alone writing about that,” he added.
He then told the British magazine that he was “appalled to be tarred as misogynist which is something very alien to my personal beliefs or politics. This whole thing could not be more horrifying to me than if someone had claimed I was a gung-ho Trump supporter.”
Harvey would go on to provide clarity about the parts of the review that Mulligan took issue with and then called into question Mulligan’s own reaction.
He stated, “I assumed that film-makers who created such a complex, layered movie wouldn’t interpret what I wrote as some kind of simpleminded sexism. And while Carey Mulligan is certainly entitled to interpret the review however she likes, her projection of it suggesting she’s ‘not hot enough’ is, to me, just bizarre. I’m sorry she feels that way. But I’m also sorry that’s a conclusion she would jump to, because it’s quite a leap.”
Harvey then went on to point out that the film’s US distributor, Focus Features a unit of Universal, “immediately asked permission to use multiple pullquotes from the review in their marketing a year ago.”
He also questioned the timing of Mulligan’s accusations which came as the “film was finally being released, promoted and Oscar-campaigned.” He stated that it wasn’t until the film was being marketed and promoted that his review was “belatedly labelled ‘insensitive’ and flagged with an official ‘apology.'”
Finally, Harvey told The Guardian, “It’s left in question whether after 30 years of writing for Variety I will now be sacked because of review content no one found offensive until it became fodder for a viral trend piece.”
Harvey is not the only person to point out that Hollywood begins ginning up controversies in order to promote their products.
Most recently, Justified author Jon Del Arroz claimed that Disney’s marketing strategy for Star Wars: The High Republic is calling fans racist.
Reacting to Star Wars’ statement of support for Krystina Arielle who called white people racist in multiple tweets, Del Arroz stated, “this has been the game plan all along, she probably did these racist things intentionally. And I think it is a marketing stunt because nobody is interested in this Disney High Republic stuff.”
He continued, “If you’ve gone through and even perused it, it just looks like an awful outing and it’s very clear they are pushing people in there as diversity hires intentionally. It’s sort of an Al Sharpton shakedown, but with science fiction. And nobody is going to want it.”
“And so because nobody is in advance going to want it, they are going to try and make a political cause out of it in order to generate sales,” he said.
He would conclude the video stating, “But, yes, this is just a marketing gimmick for Disney at the end of the day because there is no talk about The High Republic that is positive. Nobody is interested in the comics. Nobody is interested in the books. Nobody is interested in the show discussing the comics and books. And so they have to try to make some sort of cause about it in order to get people interested. It’s a tired tactic at this point.”
It’s likely this “scandal” surrounding Promising Young Woman is also a marketing stunt as Harvey implies.
The film appears to have completely bombed at the box office. It’s opening weekend did not even garner one million dollars. It opened to $719,305. According to The-Numbers the film has only earned $7.1 million at the worldwide box office.
Nevertheless, this marketing stunt appears to have worked when it comes to award ceremonies.
The Golden Globes recently nominated the film for Best Picture Drama. Carey Mulligan was also nominated for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama for her role as Cassandra in the film.
Those award nominations appear to have come at the cost of Dennis Harvey. And who is he next to the #MeToo movement and Hollywood endorsed agendas?