The gay screenwriter of Freeheld is speaking out against the mainstreaming of LGBT characters.
In a passionate speech at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Vanguard Awards, where he was being honored for writing pioneering films like Philadelphia and Soldier’s Girl, Ron Nyswaner expressed his frustration with Hollywood’s trend to normalize queer lives in film and television.
“We must take care to protect our history and our culture. We must be careful as we become ‘mainstream’ that we don’t forget that we are the descendants of outlaws and rebels,” he cautioned the audience Saturday night at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles. “We must resist the tendency to be ‘de-gayed.’”
Although he did not reference the film by name, Nyswaner, whose most recent writing credit isFreeheld, stated that a new project of his was changed by producers who were fearful that its lesbian characters were too queer. The result, he says, was a disappointing, tamer version of what he had written.
“One of my recent gay-themed projects had a lot of potential. But the producers became fearful,” he told the audience. “And the gay characters were idealized, their edges were smoothed out, the conflict between them was softened.”
“Over my vigorous objections — by the way, that’s for the record — the main characters were turned into lesbians with a lower-case L, because God forbid someone would think we were making a movie about a couple of dykes. Out of fear, they were normalized.”
The film Freeheld is based on the real-life story of Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore), a New Jersey police officer who, after learning she is dying of cancer, fights to bestow her pension benefits to her partner, Stacie Andree (Ellen Page).
The film was panned by many critics. The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a rating of only 46 percent “fresh,” noting, “Freeheld certainly means well, but its cardboard characters and by-the-numbers drama undermine its noble intentions.”
Nyswaner turned his story into a clarion call for the LGBT community to fight against normalization, and to hold on to their identity in art and life. He said:
“We must remember and insist that others honor our history and our very specific gay culture. We are the inheritors of a culture that is created from pain and difficulty from being different. And from that difference, we created a powerful community that changed the world.
“We must recognize that power, the power of being different. We don’t have to be normalized to have all of our rights. And we don’t have to be normalized to be the main characters of film and television shows. We can still be fags and dykes.”
Nyswaner concluded his stirring speech with a vow to renew his own fight to preserve the “artistic authority” of his work.
“I’m done with fear. I’m never going to work on something — my reps are going to cringe — which I do not have some measure of artistic authority,” he said.
“I will create art in which gay characters are not normalized, art that features LGBT characters who are fearless, powerful, scary motherfuckers.”
Nyswaner was presented his award by Olive Kitteridge actress Frances McDormand at the fundraising gala, which supported the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s health and housing services for LGBT youth and elders. Other honorees of the evening included Jane Fonda, who was introduced by her Grace and Frankie costar Lily Tomlin, and out singer Miley Cyrus.