Ron Nyswaner may not be a household name but with his scripts for the likes of Girl’s Soldier and his Oscar-winning Philadelphia he’s an important figure in bringing LGBT stories to the mainstream. However while at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Vanguard Awards on Saturday he was keen to point out that that the battle isn’t over, telling the audience that one of his recent gay-themed scripts ended up ‘de-gayed’.
That script was presumably for the recent Freeheld, which stars Ellen Page as Stacie Andree, who was denied the pension benefits of her longtime partner and New Jersey police detective Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore), when the latter became terminally ill. While Hester’s detective partner, Dane Wells (Michael Shannon), was conservative and initially surprised to learn of Hester’s sexual orientation, he stepped up to become the leader in the fight for Laurel’s rights to assign her benefits to Stacie. Steve Carell meanwhile plays the lawyer who helped take the case to court.
However the movie version wasn’t what Nyswaner had original intended, saying in his impassioned speech that, ‘For those of us who have that privilege I spoke of, earlier, of being artists — we have our challenges too. We must take care to protect our history and our culture. We must be careful — as we become mainstream — that we don’t forget we’re the descendants of outlaws and rebels. We must resist the tendency to be de-gayed.
‘One of my recent gay-themed projects had a lot of potential. But the producers became fearful. The gay characters were idealized. Their edges were smoothed out. The conflict between them was softened. Over my vigorous objections by the way, for the record.
‘The main characters were turned into Lesbians with lower case l.
‘Because God forbid someone might think we were making a movie about a couple of dykes. Out of fear, they were normalized. We must remember — and insist that others honor — our history and our very specific gay culture. We are the inheritors of a culture that was created from pain and invisibility. From being different.
‘And from that difference we created a powerful community that changed the world. Art about gay people has to 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 TV shows. We can still be fags and dykes.
‘We need to have the courage to insist that our gay characters are created within the fullness of their humanity with all their flaws. Just like straight characters.
‘Tonight, I make this pledge to you. I’m done with fear. I will never work on something in which I don’t have some measure of artistic authority. I will create art in which gay characters are not normalized. Art that features LBGT characters who are fearless, powerful and scary motherf—ers. Maybe next year on ‘Homeland,’ Dar Adal will finally come out of the closet. Then, we’ll learn the true meaning of Special Ops.’