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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

Evan Rachel Wood Details Marilyn Manson Abuse Allegations in New Documentary

In Phoenix Rising, which premiered Sunday at Sundance, the actor describes the alleged abuse and her ensuing activism

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Image: Sundance

In February 2021, Evan Rachel Wood accused her ex, shock rocker Marilyn Manson, of “horrifically abusing me for years” in a brief post on instagram. She wrote that he began grooming her as a teenager and accused him of brainwashing and manipulation. “I am done living in fear of retaliation, slander, or blackmail,” she wrote. “I am here to expose this dangerous man and call out the many industries that have enabled him, before he ruins any more lives. I stand with the many victims who will no longer be silent.”

A follow-up post on her Instagram Stories that week described Manson’s alleged antisemitism and racism, but after that, Wood avoided speaking directly about Manson in public. Until now. On Sunday night, the first of the upcoming two-part HBO documentary Phoenix Rising premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. In it, Wood shares a more explicit version of her side of the story, detailing Manson’s alleged grooming, love-bombing, and attempts to isolate her from her family. She accuses him of violently dragging her through a hotel and says she was “essentially raped on camera” during the filming of Manson’s 2007 video “Heart-Shaped Glasses.”

Phoenix Rising features some candid footage of Wood sorting through her archive to recount her relationship alongside fellow artist/activist Illma Gore, some interviews with Wood’s family, and plenty of footage of Manson being provocative onstage and in interviews; but the documentary’s spine is a simple direct-to-camera interview with Wood. “I’m still terrified to name Brian publicly,” she says early on, referring to Manson by his birth name (Brian Warner) and recalling how he threatened to “fuck up my whole family from the bottom up, starting with my dad.”

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Wood describes meeting Manson at a party at Los Angeles’s storied Chateau Marmont in 2006 when she was 18 and Manson was 37. He suggested they collaborate on a film project about the life of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll. They began hanging out (typically writing together while drinking absinthe) and then, she says, he kissed her one night unexpectedly. The first kiss, she says, made her feel “scared and excited” because “it was like being kissed by a god.” A romantic relationship ensued. Early on, she says, he told her that she was his inspiration to make music and that she and her mother were too enmeshed. From a journal, she reads some of the things he allegedly told her, like, “You’re so important to me I want to kick you.”

For the “Heart-Shaped Glasses” video, Wood says they had discussed a simulated sex scene but that he penetrated her when the cameras were rolling. “I did not agree to that,” she says, calling the experience “traumatizing.” She explains that as a working teen in Hollywood, she had been conditioned to soldier through (earlier in the doc, she recalls putting her discomfort aside to kiss a 23 year old on the set of 2003's Thirteen, which Wood filmed when she was 14).

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“I was coerced into a commercial sex act under false pretenses,” says Wood of the video shoot. “That’s when the first crime was committed against me. And I was essentially raped on camera.” Wood’s mother says that her daughter was inebriated on the set of the video.

Wood alleges that the first time Manson was violent with her happened on tour, after he had drunk nearly a whole bottle of liquid Vicodin. She said he grabbed her by the arm and yanked her through the lobby of a hotel. Once in the room they were to share, he began to trash it.

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In 2018, Wood testified before a House Judiciary Subcommittee that she had experienced “threats against my life, severe gaslighting and brainwashing, waking up to the man that claimed to love me raping what he believed to be my unconscious body” by an abuser that she did not name at the time. Many assumed it was Manson, and in Phoenix Rising, she explicitly connects him to the allegations. After her testimony, Wood says, she heard from many women alleging abuse from Manson. As of late last year, some 16 women had accused the musician of sexual abuse and battery.

The name Phoenix Rising derives from the Phoenix Act, Wood’s pet cause to extend the statute of limitations in California. The work Wood and fellow survivors did on behalf the act is detailed in Phoenix Rising—it was passed unanimously, though eventually rewritten on the floor. It was initially envisioned to extend the statute of limitations to 10 years, but was amended to three to five years.

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Manson declined to participate in the doc, though his lawyer sent this statement to production:

Mr. Warner vehemently denies any and all claims of sexual assault or abuse of anyone. These lurid claims against my client have three things in common—they are all false, alleged to have taken place more than a decade ago and part of a coordinated attack by former partners and associates of Mr. Warner who have weaponized the otherwise mundane details of his personal life and their consensual relationships into fabricated horror stories.

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In a brief introduction before the premiere, Phoenix Rising director Amy Berg described the doc as a “work in progress,” and said that it would be complete in time for its HBO airing in March. During a post-screening Q&A, Wood said, “It’s time for me to tell the truth. It’s time for me to finally tell my side. I can’t have it told for me anymore. People are going to believe whatever they’re going to believe. It’s not my job to convince people I’m not lying. It’s my job to tell the truth. And that’s what I’ve done.”