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Not All Stories Are About Straight White Men: Here's 12 Films That Could Make Money and Bring Diversity To The Big Screen

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by Peter Knegt, Matthew Hammett Knott, Helen Lee and Alice Lytton
July 17, 2014 4:57 PM
11 Comments
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Belle


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.

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.

1. 1886

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.

2. Highsmith

Images of Patricia Highsmith as a young woman
Images of Patricia Highsmith as a young woman

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):

Coming to a cinema near you?
Coming to a cinema near you?

“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.

Click 'Next' For Numbers 5-8


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11 Comments

  • Ron | July 24, 2014 5:36 PMReply

    While I don't disagree with you to a point, one could hardly say that gay white men are overwhelmed with movies portraying them as your article asserts. How many movies with gay white men as the lead did you see in the cineplex last year, especially ones where they didn't kill themselves, get AIDS or come out? Yeah, I thought so. So much to choose from... where does one begin?

  • Dude | July 19, 2014 9:55 PMReply

    Great. So someone make one of these. What are you waiting for? Indiegogo and Kickstarter are their to raise the capital needed. The internet can be your distribution and you can make it look and sound as good as Hollywood for the cost of a new car.
    Hello? Anyone there?

  • DUDE | July 19, 2014 10:14 PM

    I have an idea. Indiewire runs their own crowd funding campaign and raise $100,000.00. Then have a contest for the best filmmakers from all over the world. They submit a ten minute film/video and the best filmmaker gets $100,000.00 to produce the first three episodes of a low budget series to be seen here exclusively on Indiewire. If its really good you promote the concept of a pay as you make it series to be seen here only and the cost is born by the viewers through subscription, just like Netflix.

  • Peter G. | July 19, 2014 5:29 AMReply

    I would watch any of these. Anything but the usual Hollywood tiredness!
    # 3 yes, but how about a film about Bayard Rustin - the Brother Outsider doc was a tease. I want a real film. Also, the book Lush Life..about Billy Strayhorn would be a fantastic film. For that matter a film about James Baldwin and or an adaptation of any of his books. I recommend Just Above My Head. (that would be epic!)
    # 5 someone remake the Christine Jorgensen story- and do it right this time. Or an adaptation of Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton.
    #7 yes, give Alfre her Oscar!
    # 2. more Highsmith book adaptations!
    There are so many stories I would love to see besides straight white men: The Glen Burke Story. The Life and death of the first out football player Justin Fashanu. (watch the BBC doc Fallen Hero).
    Where's the Nina Simone film? Alvin Ailey? Langston Hughes? Yuri Kochiyama? Shirley Chisholm? I could go on and on...

  • Peter G . | July 25, 2014 2:33 PM

    ..or as my friend pointed out to me where is the Rita Mae Brown and Larry Duplechan films? - BLACKBIRD has been completed by Patrik Ian-Polk. -But will anyone see it?

  • Peter G. | July 19, 2014 5:43 AM

    The Dreyfus Affair: A Love Story forgot to add that book by Peter Lefcourt - I believe that's been in development hell for years... many many others -if Tyler Perry could do it they could turn E. Lynn Harris' and James Earl Hardys' books into film. B-Boy Blues!

  • Daniella Isaacs | July 18, 2014 2:50 PMReply

    I can see virtually all of these making money, maybe not blockbuster money--you douchbag Fartzilla--but real, impressive profit-to-cost ratio money. Do them as independent films and all of these could reap rewards for investors. Remember, THE WEDDING BANQUET--*not* JURASSIC PARK was the most profitable film on a profit-cost-ratio of 1993. So… If you have $500,000 to invest, put it in the WEDDING BANQUETs of the world.

  • fartzilla | July 17, 2014 9:28 PMReply

    Oh yeah, some definite blockbusters in this shitpile.

  • Autumn Faust | July 17, 2014 7:34 PMReply

    "Transgendered?" That's not really appropriate phraseology. It privileges gender presentation over identity, assuming one isn't /really/ another gender until a benevolent cis person deems it so. This means it also erases non-binary trans people. Besides this, it's just grammatically incorrect. "Transgender" is an adjective, so it cannot have a past tense. The notion that it can is grammatically, and in this case, socially, incorrect.

    Other than that minor complaint about the language, thanks as usual for spotlighting transgender issues in film. You certainly do a better job of it than many outlets, even ostensibly LGBT ones.

  • Alice Lytton | July 17, 2014 7:50 PM

    Hi Autumn, thanks so much for bringing that to our attention - it was a typo but an important one to fix immediately, which we now have. You'll have hopefully noticed that's not a phrase we use anywhere on the site, ever, and we hope nothing in our coverage suggests any of our writers (some of whom are trans) think gender identity is determined by anyone other than the person in question themselves.

  • Selma | July 17, 2014 7:04 PMReply

    Ok honestly, some of these I can't see making all that much money but the first two and lumber janes, yes. Love the ideas!!

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