Carey Mulligan Responds to Apology From Variety Over Sexist “Promising Young Woman” Review

The publication said it "regrets the insensitive language"

carey mulligan
Carey Mulligan attends the 2020 Sundance Film Festival "Promising Young Woman" premiere at The Marc Theatre on January 25, 2020 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
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Carey Mulligan has responded after Variety issued an apology to her over the “sexist” language used in their review of her film Promising Young Woman, reacting to the apology in a conversation with fellow actress Zendaya as part of the publication’s “Actors on Actors” series.

Mulligan initially called out the review in a profile for the New York Times, pointing out the way it focused on her looks “drove [her] so crazy.” “Mulligan, a fine actress, seems a bit of an odd choice as this admittedly many-layered apparent femme fatale,” the original Variety review of Promising Young Woman wrote. “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.”

“It made me concerned that in such a big publication, an actress’ appearance could be criticized and that could be accepted as completely reasonable criticism,” Mulligan told Zendaya. “It stuck with me, because I think it’s these kind of everyday moments that add up — that mean that we start to edit the way that women appear on screen, and we want them to look a certain way. We want to airbrush them, and we want to make them look perfect. Or we want to edit the way that they work, the way they move, and the way that they think and behave. And I think we need to see real women portrayed on screen and in all of their complexity. So I felt that it was one small thing to point out that could be helpful.”

Mulligan admitted that it was “nerve-racking to rock the boat with a big publication” but said that she was “really surprised and thrilled to have received an apology. I kind of found it moving, in a way — to draw a line and know that had an impact.”

Mulligan said she believed the review implied she was not “hot enough to pull off this kind of ruse,” and she was right to speak out about it. The implication, whether intentional or not, that someone is not “hot enough” to be sexually assaulted or harassed by men is a dangerous notion that perpetuates rape culture by both overlooking the fact that nearly every woman has had to deal with predatory men in her life in some form or another, and further, implying that those who dress more overtly sexy are “asking for it.” The sad reality is that every 73 seconds, someone in America is sexually assaulted, and one out of every six women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. You don’t need to be Margot Robbie to encounter sexual predators. (You don’t even need to be a grown woman: 63,000 victims of sexual abuse a year are children.)

Dennis Harvey’s Variety review fails to grasp how the movie drives that point home — that rape can happen to anyone, regardless of who they are or how they’re dressed — by outfitting Cassie with a different, distinctive manner of address each time she goes to the club to catch would-be predators. Sometimes she’s glammed up in what Harvey referred to as “bad drag,” but other times she’s dressed conservatively, in business-casual attire, as if she had gone out straight from work. And yet every time, without fail, she’s picked up and taken home by a man who thinks she’s too drunk to stand and subsequently attempts what Harvey problematically refers to as “predatory hijinks.” Hijinks implies some good-natured, mischievous fun. The word he was looking for to describe when a man has sex with a woman who is too impaired to consent is rape.

Since Mulligan spoke out, Variety has subsequently added an editor’s note at the top of the review. “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,” it reads.

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