Walter Hill is one of the great action and genre directors of the last 40 years, having made classics like “The Driver,” “The Warriors,” directed the pilot of HBO’s “Deadwood,” and produced, guided and rewrote the first three “Alien” films. With his latest film, “The Assignment” (originally titled “REAssignment” when it premiered at TIFF last fall), Hill finds himself in the unusual position of receiving sharp criticism for being transphobic.
“Want to know the truth, I don’t think it is very controversial,” said director Walter Hill, when he was a guest on IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit podcast. “It’s been attacked mainly by people that haven’t seen the movie.”
In “The Assignment,” Frank Kitchen (Michelle Rodriguez) is a hitman, who one day wakes up in a seedy hotel room stunned to discover he’s been turned into a woman. The character soon discovers the gender re-assignment surgery was performed by a doctor (Sigourney Weaver) as an act of revenge for Kitchen having killed her brother.
The film has drawn numerous complaints and on a variety of fronts, including depicting a surgery — one that is life-affirming for many in the transgender community — as being a cruel punishment. Hill doesn’t necessarily disagree, but states being “transgender is a very different thing than genital alteration,” insisting his film is about revenge, not being transgender.
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“Frank Kitchen is a guy,” said Hill. “[After] he’s been genitally altered [he’s still] a fellow inside his head. Every scene in the movie he is a fellow inside his head and is still at the end of the movie.”
Hill sees the film as being consistent with the beliefs of the transgender community. “I see the movie as totally supporting the transgender notions, as far as I can see — that is to say you are who you are inside your head and therefore and that’s the determining factor,” said Hill. “Therefore Frank’s attitudes are very consistent with transgender theory.”
Hill does acknowledge that casting of Rodriguez complicates matters, saying, “this possibly is made a little more abstruse by the fact that I cast a women to play Frank after he’s been genitally altered.”
While Hill does address the controversy [35:00 mark], he also talked about his career, sharing insights into his sparse writing style and directing great chase scenes.
IndieWire’s Jude Dry also joined the podcast to share her thoughts on “The Assignment,” which she sees as a slap in the face to the transgender community and is equally guilty of presenting an antiquated view of gender.
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The music used in this podcast is from the “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present” score, courtesy of composer Nathan Halpern.