The awkward age of identity cinema

We watch movies to travel, through characters who often bring us back to ourselves. Sometimes, we seek an emotion, sometimes representation, especially when it’s lacking elsewhere.

When I was ten, I identified with male heroes. Because they lived grand adventures and embraced magnificent women.

When I was twenty, When Night is Falling allowed me to realize I was a lesbian.

Twenty years later, it’s with joy in my heart that I saw Blue Is the Warmest Colour, Call me by your name, or even Portrait of a lady on fire tug at the heartstrings of all kinds of audiences. Even Christmas movies, usually so heteronormative, are warming up to it. Happiest Season shows the celebration by following a lesbian couple, with Kristen Stewart, and Mackenzie Davis in the role of her girlfriend. A true gift. 

remains a question: what do we do about zombies and aliens?

Instead of revelling in those, the young identitarian guard and its buzz-seeking press wonders if Viggo Mortensen is entitled to direct Falling, telling the story of a gay character. Reminding everyone that none of them knows his sexuality, the artist sends them packing and asks to be judged only by the sincerity of his movie. Isn’t this the most vital element?

To play a part, it is the soul of cinema. Contrary to the assignment denounced by Tania de Montaigne. Yet, we live in this awkward age where Zoé Saldana has to apologize to have played the part of Nina Simone for not being as black as her, where Fanny Ardant faced reproaches for playing a trans woman. Accused of appropriation, Scarlet Johannson had to give up on performing Dante Gill, a mafioso assigned female at birth in the 1970s. The movie’s release was pushed back and seems to now be destined to a TV broadcast.

Renowned actors are needed to show those movies about characters from minorities to large audiences, especially when the economy is fragile and the market reticent. Who would dare try after those sparked controversies?

The young vigilantes of identity do not concern themselves with such matters. It is not about pushing back against stereotypes, but complaining to exist.

When they talk in good faith, they explain roles of characters that are part of a minority should be « saved » for actors « affected by the same issues »  as they do not have much access to other roles. It’s facing the issue backwards. The goal is to go towards a cinema in which trans actresses can play cis women characters in romcoms, homosexuals play heterosexuals without having to hide their private life, and black actors, classical heroes, as Omar Sy does in « Lupin ».

This ongoing revolution offends the old guard. Though luck. Gays are gay, trans are trans, bearers of handicaps are bearers of handicaps…Only, remains a question: what do we do about the zombies and aliens?

L’Assignation. Les Noirs n’existent pas Grasset, 2018.

Caroline Fourest

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