Dear Olivia Munn: I’m Sorry
When searching for clips of Olivia Munn on G4’s now defunct Attack of the Show, it didn’t take me long to decipher a pattern in what was available: There were lots of clips dedicated to ‘sexy’ scenes of Munn, often in cosplay but typically doing nothing more than wearing normal clothes; there was one much-watched video of her stuffing hot dogs into her mouth while men cheered on; and, because this is the internet, there’s the requisite footage of her feet. Yet the one that I kept returning to was the pie jump. After many weeks of the show promising the titillating climax, Munn finally donned a sexy fetish maid outfit and jumped into a giant chocolate cream pie. Watching the full 10-minute clip is a curious experience. Munn’s co-host Kevin Pereira, who is wearing a tuxedo, stands aside and offers words of banter I suppose could be supportive while Munn delays the inevitable.
The audience, which sounds almost exclusively male, honks with anticipation when she finally removes her robe to reveal the maid outfit, straight from Victoria’s Secret. When she lands in the giant pie, which can’t be deeper than a paddling pool, it’s clear that she’s hurt but she tries to mask the pained looks with an expression of vaguely embarrassed joy. Pereira eventually pulls off his tux to reveal a less sexy maid outfit and he joins Munn in the slop. Munn would later reveal that she did indeed hurt her shins with her landing. The comments section doesn’t seem to care about such things. Rather, these people have two priorities: To objectify Munn and to shame her as an attention seeker for doing her job. That seems to be a recurring theme with Olivia Munn’s career. She cannot win, no matter what she does.
When I was younger and in the early days of my LiveJournal dedication, I joined the fake/real news fandom, an all-encompassing community for lovers of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and MSNBC/CNN hosts. I was lonely, had insomnia, and ended up watching a lot of American cable news. It was a weird time, but also one hell of a fandom. I remember when Olivia Munn was announced as a new correspondent on The Daily Show, becoming the first Asian woman to do so. I also remember how she was instantly hated by the majority of the fandom whose primary interest in the community was The Daily Show. It wasn’t as though there weren’t legitimate things to talk about - Munn had a habit of ‘hipster racism’, joking that she could make certain gags because she fucked people of those races, something Stewart himself allegedly found hilarious - but that wasn’t what took up so much of our conversations. Three words - Fake Geek Girl.
Munn had faced those ludicrous accusations before. It is hard to read any discussion of her time on Attack of the Show without encountering a decent-sized chunk of such bile. She wrote a memoir called Suck It Wonder Woman, a titled that inspired ire in many, and she wore sexy cosplay and talked about her love of Star Wars on talk shows while looking stunning. She posed for Playboy but also liked Street Fighter. For every man who felt comfortable with vocally treating her like a ball-jointed doll designed for their personal use, there was another who wanted everyone to know they didn’t buy into her geek goddess trap. She was just trying to lure in the gullible geek guys by pretending to like immensely popular properties. Even Jezebel got in with the hate, labelling her persona a ‘shtick’ and implied her looks were the only reason anyone wanted to hire her.
And I bought into that shit too.
But it’s 2018 now. Munn is a successful actress who’s been on The Newsroom, Magic Mike, the X-Men franchise, and most recently The Predator. Her work on the last title has been overshadowed by her willingness to stand alone in calling out director Shane Black’s hiring of a registered sex offender for the film. She candidly talked about feeling lonely on the press tour as her co-workers seemed to avoid her, and how demoralizing the process had been. She even talked about leaving the acting world altogether. Reading that, all I could think about was how familiar this cycle must have felt to her: The need to ‘pander’ to the right men for the career boost but being shamed for playing the game and dismissed as ungrateful when she excluded herself from those narratives.
And that’s why I want to apologize.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how Munn has consistently been positioned as an enemy for doing little more than being aware of her audience and how to effectively network. She’s an Asian American woman in an industry where her race and gender will often result in her being ignored or her identity being erased from the narrative. She enjoys things that were coded as the domain of straight white bros for decades, and knowing how to appeal to that market had her labelled as a traitor. Being sexual and sexualized made places like Jezebel all but declare her a traitor and it still wasn’t enough to satisfy the braying misogynists who her team were keenly aware remained a profitable demographic. Eventually, they will all turn on you.
Munn’s credentials have been questioned at every turn: My old fandom accused her of not being talented enough to have earned her place on The Daily Show; plenty of comments sections have been dedicated to dissecting whether or not she’s a ‘true geek’ (something way too many women can relate to); her intentions for wanting a registered sex offender out of the movie she was starring in were heavily interrogated, as if she had something to gain from the experience.
In 2017, she was one of six women to come forward with accusations of sexual harassment levelled at director Brett Ratner. She had already told the story of Ratner ejaculating at her when she visited his trailer in 2004 in her book, although she left out the names. Ratner would later appear on Attack of the Show in 2011 and take pride in the incident, although he would also claim he used to date Munn, ‘when she was “Lisa”… She wasn’t Asian back then… I banged her a few times… but I forgot her.’ He claimed she wrote of the incident in her book out of spite because he didn’t remember her at an audition. It took him a few days to retract those claims but the damage was done and the narrative against Munn reinforced: Don’t trust her, she’s fake.
I think a lot about how what she went through with The Predator seems so similar to the spiel she endured as the ‘fake geek girl’. The goalposts were always moving. She was the one who had to bend over backwards to adhere to the demands of men who were waiting for an opportunity to cast someone younger and more pliable. You can plan and pander and fine-tune your image to its most effective degree but the assumption will always be that you’re fake or manipulative or treacherous. And when you get sick of playing by unfair rules, ones everyone knows are bullshit, you’re still the one who suffers the most.
So, once more I would like to wholeheartedly say to Olivia Munn: I am sorry. I’m sorry you’ve been dragged so thoroughly over obvious double standards. I hope you don’t quit acting because of what happened with The Predator because you’re 100% right about that. I’m sorry for being one of too many voices who contributed to the impossible standards that have enshrouded your entire career, and indeed exacerbated misogynistic stereotypes we’re still working to unpack today.
Header Image Source: Getty Images.
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