It’s hardly news that the diversity in Hollywood films is abysmal. When did Studio Execs decide that film is now the medium to portray paper-thin versions of lives completely alien to huge swathes of their viewers? Or indeed that the viewers they most care about are a certain kind of white dude (#notall), one who has bros and bucks and makes jokes about ‘fat chicks’ cuz lol? Those same Execs, it seems, also agreed that privilege should be a barrier to entry when it comes to making films: rich, straight, white, male – these elements combined grant a golden key to the film industry.
This approach is flawed for more reasons than we have space to go into here, but it is particularly flawed because even on its own reductive, economic logic, it doesn’t make sense. Audiences want more and might not be quite what Studios expect (this article shows a case in point). An Indiewire audience doesn’t need to be told that plenty of viewers respond to quality rather than size, to a beautifully rendered plot, to the thrill of a cinematographer who really knows how to paint with light, to a narrative which surprises in how it reveals some facet of human life usually ignored, to playfulness and satire which is subversive rather than conventional. Put simply: there are lots of people crying out for more than the same old stories.
The push-back against the dull homogeny of Hollywood has certainly started. A simple google will bring up an articulate world of writing rejecting the prevailing industry norms.
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We want to add to this with some positive alternatives, some films which, if made, would no doubt enrich the still tugid pool of Studio dross. We’ve looked for things which we think could actually work as films – which has meant leaving out lots of ideas we love. We’ve also tried to think about things which will actually make studios money, seeing as profit margins seem to be the basis of their arguments against anything that defies the norm. Maybe not all of our suggestions would fit this part of the bill, but then, there have been plenty of hugely expensive Studio flops.
All this being so, we think we’ve put together a list of projects which are more than deserving of the investment Hollywood has at its fingertips.
Amma Asante’s “Belle” has been the bona fide indie sleeper hit of the year, grossing over $10 million in the US alone and once again defying anyone who might claim that a film with a woman of color protagonist needs to fit a certain genre or audience. But if “Belle” has proven that cinema goers are more than responsive to films about the women of color denied their place both in history and at the multiplex, it has a worthy successor in “1886”, a forthcoming project by screenwriter Thuc Nguyen which tells the story of the Haymarket bombing, an event associated with anarchists who campaigned for the eight-hour work day. Co-protagonist of the film is Lucy Parsons, a woman of mixed African-American, Native American and Mexican ancestry who, along with her husband Albert, was pivotal in the anarchist movement the film depicts and a truly inspiring heroine of her time. More relevant than ever before in the light of Occupy and the contemporary debate on inequality, this is one neglected narrative and set of characters we would love to see find the cinema audience it deserves.
Next up is another film that is ready to be made immediately. It’s an already scripted biopic of crime novelist Patricia Highsmith, whose amoral protagonists like Tom Ripley propelled her into the literary, and latterly cinematic, spotlight. (A big-screen adaptation of her iconic lesbian novel now known as “Carol” stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara and is scheduled for release in 2015). And yet despite all of this the media portrait of Highsmith remains hopelessly flawed: she had alcoholism and promiscuity in common with her famous male peers – where in them it has been read as a sign of their ‘troubled genius’ in Highsmith it is remembered as monstrous. The script tells the story of how a startling talent was forced to deny who she was, and in so doing brings alive the McCarthy period and the personal toll it took on one prominent queer artist. The writer, Eliza F Lee, has plenty of accolades of her own, and with Bryan Brucks of Luber Roklin Entertainment on board we see no excuses for not allowing this hit novelist finally to be the star of her own story.
3. A queer history narrative from the perspective of someone other than gay white men.
The history behind the queer rights movement is a vast and diverse one, full of hundreds and hundreds of incredible stories of folks who played considerable roles in getting us where we are today. But essentially every single one of those stories that has made it to the big screen as dealt primarily with the LGBT demographic least in need of a pat on the back: gay white men. It was easy to bite your lip with rather pioneering examples like “Milk,” a story about a gay white man that absolutely needed to be told. But then we get Ryan Murphy’s “The Normal Heart” and Roland Emmerich’s upcoming “Stonewall,” semi-fictionalized accounts of history where we’re still given casts made up almost entirely of gay white men that did not have to be. So how about mixing it up next time? Like with the story of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, the lesbian couple who founded the Daughters of Bilitis in 1955 (the first social and political organization ever in the US). It even has a Hollywood happy ending: The pair got married in 2004 with the first same sex wedding to take place in San Francisco. Imagine Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson in old age makeup weeping as they finally tie the knot? Can you say Oscars! Or how about the story behind Billy Jones and the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays (never heard of them? then please read this), a group born in the Washington DC area that fought against “gay” being synonymous with “white” in the early activist movement. We could go on and on…
4. The Lumberjanes Movie
Five best friends who are also girls go to camp, end up fighting 3-eyed wolves, yetis, supernaturally large birds. As you do when you are young and bad-ass. This is also known as AMAZING summer movie potential. The Girl Effect (otherwise known as: market complex characters with agency to young girls and watch the $$$s come in) is just starting to get the attention of Studio Execs in this post-Frozen landscape. Well, they’re going to need stories, and I can think of few better than this wonderfully titled example. The authors just get it when it comes to representing young women in the 21st century: it’s kind of worth quoting one of them in full (taken from Autostraddle):
“One of the biggest issues plaguing female characters is that, because there are relatively few of them, there isn’t a lot of diversity, and the conversations around them push very specific traits as being ‘more feminist’ — typically masculine traits like physical strength, emotional toughness, etc. — and there ends up not being a lot of room left for genuinely nuanced and organic female characters. Because when there’s only one woman in the cast, she has to be everything for everyone, and that’s not really possible. Every person is both strong and weak at the same time, and if you can’t show that weakness and you can’t show how there’s lots of ways to be strong, you don’t really have a real character. The best way I can figure to address that is to have way more female characters. Just, like, so many. Then it’s not on one woman’s shoulders to represent all women in a positive way. They can be heroes, villains, ambiguously moral, comic relief, femme, butch, strong, weak, etc. and what you’ve got are — people.”
These writers should be making all the movies.
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5. Trans Men Taking The Lead
Every day next week on /bent we’re running a series dedicated to “trans in the mainstream”. It’s a critical review of the state of trans representation in the mainstream, and in some respects it’s not easy reading. For one, there are just so few films where trans men take the lead. Even now, as the “trans tipping point” is, quite rightly, being celebrated, it can feel like trans men aren’t in the spotlight in quite the same way as trans women are. “Boys Don’t Cry” certainly showed the potential for certain stories to capture the mainstream, but now I’d like to see stories where the protagonists are trans men without the entire narrative having to hinge on that facet of their identity. So what’s my idea? Well for one, why on earth do the male leads in the Hollywood’s billion romantic comedies have to be cis-men? I’m not suggesting a simple switch – of course I want nuanced writing and development – but it’s time we stop assuming that the “male lead” is necessarily cisgendered.
6. The Night Guest
When was the last time you saw a movie where the protaganist was a seventy five year old woman? Me too. And when was the last time you saw a movie about Australia that wasn’t all about Australian masculinity, the good and the bad? And have you ever seen a movie set, even a little bit, in Fiji? These are just some of the reasons that The Night Guest by young Australian novelist Fiona McFarlane is just begging to be made into a film. And that’s before we even get into the ways the story uses dementia and ageing as tools for suspense and uncertainty in the did-she-or-didn’t-she mode of the psychological thriller. And the cherry on the cake? The haunting of a beachside house by a tiger, which is just begging for beautiful, striking, wtf-and-creepy-as-hell CGI. One of the most immediately cinematic novels I’ve read and the two leads are women over 50.
7. Stephanie Allain’s Alfre Woodard project
“I find it sad that many images of middle aged black women on the big screen are actually men dressed as women, like Madea or Big Momma” said star producer Stephanie Allain (“Hustle & Flow”, “Black Snake Moan”) when I spoke to her early this year about the dearth of leading roles for women of color beyond the age of 50. Thankfully, Allain has plans to change that. “I’m actually producing a film starring Alfre which is a lovely mid-life coming of age story written by her husband, Roderick Spencer. I’m excited to bring this story to the screen because there is nothing more beautiful than a black woman of a certain age finding herself!” Allain explained. We couldn’t agree more.
8. A starring vehicle for Laverne Cox
Laverne Cox. She’s everything the transgender community could ever
want in an activist and a spokesperson, and every sentence she utters is
surely incredibly inspiring and thoughtful to anyone who isn’t a total
asshole. Which leads us to sometimes to forget that she’s an actress,
too. And a good one! The episode in the first season of “Orange Is The
New Black” that was centered around her — which as we’re sure you know
just earned her an Emmy nomination — was proof of that. But that show
really hasn’t given her too much to do since, and we frankly think it’s
time Laverne tried something bigger anyway. Like an Angelina
Jolie-style action film or a buddy comedy with Sandra Bullock or
Hollywood’s first rom com featuring a trans lead. The world is ready for
Laverne Cox, Hollywood. So start doing your part and give her one!
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9. Adaptations of Mary Renault’s historical novels
White gay men are far better represented in cinema than anyone else on the LGBT spectrum, but it is white male artists who tend to control their representation of themselves. For a refreshing new take, I would suggest turning to one of many of the novels of Mary Renault, from the exquisite World War I-set “The Charioteer” to any of her tales of love among men in Ancient Greece, beginning with “The Last of the Wine”. Renault is a slightly contentious figure in that she disavowed the “gay rights” movement, being suspicious of identifying primarily according to sexual orientation, but this is also the root of her appeal. By writing about male love in societies where it could manifest without being stigmatised, she found ways to move beyond the “closet / coming out” narrative and examine wider concerns and dynamics pertaining to gender, power and sexuality. Such a perspective is more than worthy of the silver screen.
10. An Unecessary Woman
Wait, what? TWO movies with leads for women over 70? Rabih Alameddine’s “An Unnecessary Woman”, released earlier this year, tells the story of Aaliya Saleh, a 72 year old woman living alone in Beirut. Cutting across time and space, this book is a filmmakers gift, and an opportunity to explore and represent one woman’s journey through civil war, complex family dynamics and, ultimately, the societal strictures ageing imposes on women. All the reviews, the NYT included, have noted how rare it is to draw such a rich portrait of an older woman whilst also capturing the essence of a place like Beirut. Ideally this would be directed by a woman woman experienced in representing aspects of Middle Eastern life, in fact it could be a perfect big budget epic for Haifaa Al Mansour after her success with Wadjda.
11. Pregnant Butch
It takes one reading of hilarious
graphic novel “Pregnant Butch” to see the immediate cinematic potential. A
satire of all the gendered and faintly absurd tropes that surround
pregnancy in the West, this book is also a poignant story of navigating
pregnancy as a butch woman. It’s wonderfully funny without ever making
its protagonist the butt of the joke (unlike, in a similar vein, The L
Word when trans man Max had that awful, vaudevillian baby shower). Also,
it is so rare for butch women to get on-screen representation – this
wouldn’t just be that, it would be the chance for a butch character to
get a comic lead which didn’t deny her empathy and depth. Just another
in the litany of reasons “Pregnant Butch” needs an on-screen adaptation
12. The “Dyke & Fats” movie
A few months ago “Saturday Night Live” offered us one of their subversive, hilarious sketches in a good long while with “Dyke & Fats,” a trailer for a 1970s buddy cop show starring Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant the titular Dyke & Fats (but only they can call each other that!). The only bad thing about it was that it left us wanting more (it was only one minute!). And while a few more “SNL” sketches would be good news, why not just go for a feature length film? There’s clearly a market for female-driven buddy comedies these days, and arguments that the joke is a little one note certainly goes against the history of “SNL” sketches being turned to features. I mean, if “The Ladies Man” and “MacGruber” and “A Night at the Roxbury” could get made…. Just hire some great writers and let McKinnon and Bryant do the rest. It could be the first summer comedy explicitly featuring a leading lesbian!