It’s clear that even as a young teen, actress Evan Rachel Wood had affinity for edgy dramas. But, as it turns out, her film roles were tame compared to the drama that played out in her real life.
A victim of shocking domestic violence and sexual assault, Wood was lucky to survive. In the new two-part HBO documentary, Phoenix Rising, Wood counters the massive misinformation campaign surrounding her much publicized relationship and break-up with Brian Warner, aka shock rocker Marilyn Manson.
Phoenix Rising: Don’t Fall debuts at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on HBO tonight, Tuesday, March 15, 2022. Part 2, Phoenix Rising: Stand Up, debuts on HBO, Wednesday, March 16, 2022, 9:00 p.m. ET/PT. Both stream on HBO Max. (See below for complete details.)
A successful child actress raised in a family of actors fractured by parental discord and divorce, Evan Rachel Wood garnered serious attention and a Golden Globe nomination for her breakout role at 12 in Thirteen (2003). She played a young teenage honor student whose relationship with her single mom (Holly Hunter) is frayed when she follows a new girlfriend down a rabbit hole littered with drugs, sex and petty theft. The powers that be in Hollywood took notice, and Wood’s bold performance in the role led to a spate of film offers that exploited her youth in suggestive adult dramas.
At 18, Wood was approached by Brian Warner, ostensibly to assist him with a screenplay in a strictly mentoring capacity. Married and twice Wood’s age, the 37-year-old who performed as Marilyn Manson began what would become a calculated process of grooming the young film star: earning her trust, exposing her vulnerabilities and exploiting them in an abusive four-year May-December love affair. It was, as she later found out, an M.O. that he had perfected and would continue with other vulnerable young women.
Phoenix Rising, produced and directed by Amy Berg, provides Wood with a credible platform from which to explore her youthful susceptibility to her abuser’s allure, the pathology that drove her abuser, and the long-term ramifications of her victimization.
Aptly titled Phoenix Rising, the two-part documentary is a warts and all #metoo exposé… and it isn’t pretty. Wood addresses the horrors she faced at the hands of her abuser and his soul crushing ritualistic behavior that derailed her self esteem and core values, leading to an abortion, suicide attempt, substance abuse, and a starring role in a “music video” that took a shocking turn. She details her abuser’s cavalier use of gaslighting, sleep deprivation, drugs, branding, rape, physical restraint and beatings to disable her, isolate her from her family and friends, and fuel his escalating physical and sexual brutality.
“I really thought I was the only one.”
Wood faced many psychological roadblocks and threats of reprisal as she tried to extricate herself from a man who had the power and resources to destroy her if she fought back. Perhaps one of the most difficult chapters in Wood’s recovery was the realization that she was not her abuser’s only victim. After the relationship ended, a handful of Warner/Manson’s other young female victims and staffers finally admitted to witnessing or personally experiencing his depravity.
In 2019, after being stymied by the short window of time allotted to domestic violence and sexual assault victims to report their abuse, Wood co-authored and successfully lobbied for passage of The Phoenix Act, legislation that extends the statute of limitations for domestic violence cases in California from three to five years. The win for fellow survivors going forward is documented here and is an emotionally charged highlight of the film.
Evan Rachel Wood’s transition from silent victim to vocal advocate for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault reached a tipping point on February 1, 2021, when she publicly named Brian Warner aka Marilyn Manson as her abuser. However, with lawsuit in hand, he has denied the accusations against him, claiming they were consensual. His longtime manager quit him, but he has yet to be prosecuted. This is troubling.
Hopefully, Evan Rachel Wood’s case will gain momentum with this film. HBO plans to utilize the film to build “a robust national impact campaign to amplify key issues that are central to the commentary” by partnering with like-minded nonprofits.
Phoenix Rising and the pattern of victimization that it details (grooming, gaslighting, shame, isolation, etc.) will have evergreen potential as a discussion catalyst, an educational tool and therapeutic asset with victims’ groups and in one-on-one counseling and trauma therapy (female and male) in high school, college or community venues.
The two-part documentary will premiere on back-to-back nights. Phoenix Rising: Don’t Fall debuts on HBO tonight, Tuesday, March 15, 2022, 9:00 – 10:15 p.m. ET/PT. Phoenix Rising: Stand Up follows on Wednesday, March 16, 2022, 9:00 – 10:30 p.m. ET/PT. The films will stream via HBO Max beginning March 15, 2022. Check for repeat HBO air dates in the weeks ahead and HBO On Demand for continued availability. –Judith Trojan