The film Freeheld currently boasts a lackluster 46% on Rotten Tomatoes, chalked up to “cardboard characters and by-the-numbers drama,” and screenwriter Ron Nysawner knows where things went wrong.
Nysawner, who also wrote the Oscar-nominated script to 1993’s Philadelphia, says his original creation was “de-gayed” by producers who feared offending mainstream straight audiences.
The film follows Laurel Hester, a police officer diagnosed with a terminal illness played by Julianne Moore, struggling to secure her pension benefits for her domestic partner, played by Ellen Page.
Nysawner addressed the on-screen blandness at the LGBT Center’s Vanguard Awards in Los Angeles:
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.
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.
He added that LGBT filmmakers, “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,” and that he intends to create work, “that features LBGT characters who are fearless, powerful and scary motherfuckers.”
Nysawner vowed never again to hand over creative control of his movies. “We must be careful – as we become mainstream – that we don’t forget we’re the descendants of outlaws and rebels,” he said. “We must resist the tendency to be de-gayed.”
His next announced project, Man Made Man, is described as “the true story of two sex changes, one love affair, and a twentieth-century medical revolution.”