06/04/2016 12:04 EDT | Updated 06/05/2016 10:59 EDT

Fox Will Remove Violent 'X-Men' Billboards After Outcry

Fox apologized and said they would "never" condone violence against women.

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include 20th Century Fox's statement to The Huffington Post Canada.

Film company 20th Century Fox apologized on Friday and said it "quickly took steps" to remove offensive marketing materials for "X-Men: Apocalypse" after an outcry that the billboard promoted violence against women. But a Toronto women's organization brought the billboard to Fox's attention more than three weeks ago.

Actress Rose McGowan called Fox out on Thursday, saying the billboard for the film was "offensive and frankly, stupid." It shows an image of Oscar Isaac strangling Jennifer Lawrence with the caption "Only the strong will survive."

"Most billboards if not all should already have been taken down," Fox spokesman Chris Petrikin said in an email to The Huffington Post Canada on Sunday.

WomenatthecentrE, a Toronto organization created by female survivors of violence, wrote to 20th Century Fox about this 'X-Men: Apocalypse' billboard depicting strangulation of a woman. (Photo courtesy of WomenatthecentrE)

"There is a major problem when the men and women at 20th Century Fox think casual violence against women is the way to market a film," McGowan told The Hollywood Reporter. "The geniuses behind this, and I use that term lightly, need to to take a long hard look at the mirror and see how they are contributing to society,” she said.

Fox then apologized and said they would "never" condone violence against women. "Once we realized how insensitive it was, we quickly took steps to remove those materials," said Fox's statement. "In our enthusiasm to show the villainy of the character Apocalypse we didn’t immediately recognize the upsetting connotation of this image in print form."

A May 13 email shows that Fox was told the imagery was offensive weeks before McGowan's comments. Nneka MacGregor, the executive director of WomenatthecentrE, told Fox CEO Jim Gianopulos the billboards were "worrisome."

“I urge you to look up the statistics on the numbers of women murdered each year in the United States by their intimate partners. The number is over 8,000 women," read MacGregor's email to Gianopulos. The email was read but never answered, MacGregor said.

While they didn't respond to MacGregor's email, she was among the people who brought the issue to their attention, Fox told The Huffington Post Canada. "We did get a couple emails and calls about the billboards while we had already begun a discussion internally," Petrikin said.

MacGregor wants violence against women to be taken seriously, she told The Huffington Post Canada. Her group is the only incorporated organization in the world created by and for survivors of gender-based violence. And about 70 per cent of their members have been strangled by abusive partners, she said.

“To see that type of image so blatant and blasé… it sends a message that the violence that’s committed against you is irrelevant," she said. “This type of image is unnecessary. You don’t need this billboard to promote your film.”

“We are half the bloody population. We are not inconsequential.”

The caption on the billboard, "Only the strong will survive," sends a particularly nasty message to survivors of abuse, MacGregor said. “It tells women that we are weak, we are disposable, and these strong men who can lift you with one hand make you insignificant and inconsequential,” she explained.

“We are half the bloody population. We are not inconsequential.”

Billboard came just after study on strangulation

A member of WomenatthecentrE brought the billboards to MacGregor's attention shortly after they finished a study on the impacts of strangulation in intimate relationships.

“I don’t think we were understanding how serious and how severe the act of strangulation is,” MacGregor said. Some areas of the United States now count strangulation as attempted murder, rather than assault, she noted in her email to Fox.

Strangulation happens regularly in abusive relationships, MacGregor said. And abuse happens regularly in relationships, too.

On any given night, more than 3,300 Canadian women stay in shelters to escape violence, according to the Canadian Women's Foundation. And every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her partner, the foundation notes.

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