Actor and activist Evan Rachel Wood tells a harrowing story of surviving domestic violence in “Phoenix Rising,” an HBO documentary which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
Director Amy Berg directs the two-part film, now streaming on HBO Max. It follows Wood’s journey from establishing herself as a young actor to becoming staunch advocate for fellow survivors of domestic violence. In between, the trauma she endured at the hands of her abuser is chronicled in graphic detail. As they should be, her stories are incredibly disturbing and difficult to hear. But her clear and direct mission to help other survivors feels deeply profound and necessary.
At just 34 years old, Wood is known in the public sphere for memorable performances in independent film and award-winning television, even lending her voice to beloved family animation. Though Wood explains how her relationship followed several patterns established by serial abusers, this film is also very personal, bringing her friends and family into the fold. While the first half of “Phoenix Rising” is about using her experience to fight for change, the second part chronicles in detail how she was essentially tortured by her fiance for years, dating back to when she was as young as 18.
Because Wood and the abuser are public figures, she and Berg made the important choice to use their platform to educate about domestic abuse legislation in the U.S.
“Phoenix Rising” is named not only for Wood’s story of survival, but for an act of legislation which extends the statute of limitations for acts of domestic violence in the state of California. Wood is the titular phoenix, but so is the law – and the painstaking process of sharing the most painful period of her life in such detail is viewed through this lens as heroic and necessary in order to help others.