Alanis Morissette has revealed why she’s chosen not to attend the Toronto International Film Festival premiere of a new HBO documentary about her career.
The latest entry in Bill Simmons’s HBO docuseries Music Box, Jagged—which The Daily Beast has viewed—runs for an hour and 40 minutes and examines Morissette’s early rise through the prism of empowerment and institutional sexism. Talking heads include Morissette’s back-up band members, Jagged Little Pill co-writer Glen Ballard, and Garbage singer Shirley Manson.
Morissette gives an energetic and candid interview in the film, which addresses the artist and her career with a mixture of awe and veneration. Evidently, however, Morissette feels betrayed by the portrayal.
Neither Morissette nor Jagged director Alison Klayman provided an explanation for the apparent tension to The Washington Post when it first reported on the singer’s plan to snub the premiere. (Klayman provided a statement: “Of course I wish Alanis could be [at the premiere]. It was a privilege to make this film and I’m really proud of it. Hopefully there will be other opportunities in the future for her to come to film events.”)
But the Post article did include a confessional quote from Jagged—a disclosure of sexual abuse that the singer said she’d previously stayed mostly quiet about to protect her family.
“It took me years in therapy to even admit there had been any kind of victimization on my part,” Morissette says during her documentary interview. “I would always say I was consenting, and then I’d be reminded like ‘Hey, you were 15, you’re not consenting at 15.’ Now I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, they’re all pedophiles. It’s all statutory rape…I did tell a few people and it kind of fell on deaf ears a little bit. It would usually be a stand-up, walk-out-of-the-room moment.”
Morissette provided a statement to Rolling Stone Tuesday afternoon, in which she said the documentary “includes implications and facts that are simply not true.”
“I agreed to participate in a piece about the celebration of Jagged Little Pill’s 25th anniversary and was interviewed during a very vulnerable time (while in the midst of my third postpartum depression during lockdown),” Morissette writes. “I was lulled into a false sense of security and their salacious agenda became apparent immediately upon my seeing the first cut of the film. This is when I knew our visions were in fact painfully diverged.”
“This was not the story I agreed to tell,” the statement continues. “I sit here now experiencing the full impact of having trusted someone who did not warrant being trusted.”
Morissette’s frustration that Klayman’s “vision” diverged from her own speaks to the increasingly active role celebrities now play in shaping their narratives—even through so-called “documentaries.” Beyoncé gets to interview herself in Vogue while Taylor Swift champions her—[cough] I mean Netflix’s—carefully curated Miss Americana. As my colleague Kevin Fallon pointed out upon that film’s release in 2020, there’s something paradoxical about celebrities rallying around their own documentaries. The questions people actually want answered and the level of vulnerability A-listers are willing to provide almost never align.
At the same time, Morissette’s statement exudes a sense of violation; it implies that the scope of the project she’d signed up for was less personal, less confessional, less up-close than the cut she saw. Without more context, it’s impossible to understand the exact disconnect. But given how vulnerable the disclosures Jagged contains are—and the fact that Morissette says she’d previously avoided speaking about the sexual misconduct allegations due to safety concerns—her objection also raises broader questions about how and when the ethical rules should shift to accommodate trauma.
According to The Post, Morissette, who is currently on tour, compared Jagged to other “‘stories’ and unauthorized biographies” that have debuted over the years.
“While there is beauty and some elements of accuracy in this/my story to be sure—I ultimately won’t be supporting someone else’s reductive take on a story much too nuanced for them to ever grasp or tell,” she writes.
The artist’s statement made me think of an early moment in Jagged. The film opens on archival footage of Morissette performing, as a disembodied voice reverently explains that the singer’s brutal honesty created space for women to experience their own emotions. “It’s like, ‘I’ve got a voice. I’m 19 years old and I’m gonna fucking well tell you how I feel about that,” the voice gushes.
Cut to Morissette herself, seated for an interview in the present. “A lot of people would say, ‘Wow, you’re so brave, you’re so empowered, you’re so strong,” she says. “You know, I’m like, ‘Sometimes.’ I can’t write all these songs without obviously having been disempowered. I mean, half of these songs are about attempting to become empowered.”