Unsung Heroines: Queer Women Who Deserve Their Own Biopics


In the cinematic summer doldrums, our choices are usually limited to bloated, noisy action movies (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), mostly wholesome family fare (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) and glaringly heterosexual comedies that feed on the lamest of stereotypes about male/female relationships (The Ugly Truth).

What’s usually lacking this time of year is the epic biographical film that can fulfill the viewer’s need for real life drama but do so in a spectacular way. Who wouldn’t like to see their life story set to a soaring score and photographed in the kindest (and most diffused) of lights? In recent years, films like Ray (about Ray Charles), Walk the Line (about Johnny Cash), Milk (about murdered gay hero Harvey Milk) have received critical and popular acclaim.

But this Oscar-bait genre is only rarely devoted to the lives of remarkable women, and even more rarely to the lives of remarkable lesbian and bisexual women.

Yes, Frida (about bisexual artist Frida Kahlo) was an exception, but it also came out seven years ago and garnered Oscars for makeup and score, not Best Actress (star and producer Salma Hayek) or Best Picture.

There are glimmers of hope on the horizon. It was recently announced that a new biopic of Swedish movie legend Greta Garbo is in the works, and that it will include depictions of her romantic relationships with both men and women.

Two different biopics about bisexual singer Janis Joplin have been in development for years, with everyone from Melissa Etheridge to Pink, Brittany Murphy, Renée Zellweger, Britney Spears, Nikka Costa, Scarlett Johansson, Lindsay Lohan and Zooey Deschanel rumored to star as the self-destructive blues legend.

Likewise, Nicole Kidman and Kristin Chenoweth are currently said to be playing bisexual British pop singer Dusty Springfield in dueling biopic projects. Whether the bisexuality of Joplin or Springfield will make the final cut in any of the films remains to be seen.

In the meantime, we’ve decided to grant ourselves a theoretical development deal and plan the biopics of some of the more interesting lesbian and bisexual women in recent history. In this first article of a series, we suggest subjects, plot lines, stars and directors for the biopics we’d like to see about some deserving queer women.

Mercedes de Acosta (1893 – 1968)

BIOPIC-WORTHY BECAUSE: She was a poet, playwright, and lesbian lover to the stars of Old Hollywood.

Mercedes de Acosta

THE SUPPORTING CAST: All of her alleged celebrity conquests, including (and certainly not limited to) Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Tallulah Bankhead, and Isadora Duncan.

In terms of modern day star-power, that’s like one woman seducing Angelina Jolie, Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep, and Jennifer Lopez. Who wouldn’t want to see that movie?

SHOULD STAR: Everyone already finds half-Spanish actress Sarah Shahi (The L Word) utterly believable as a seductive siren, so it won’t be much of a leap to convince us that her de Acosta is a lover so irresistible that some the most famous women in the world might put their careers at risk to share her bed.

Sarah Shahi (rehearsing the memoir-writing scene)

While we’re at it, why not cast her lovers as well? Franka Potente (Run Lola Run) as German actress Dietrich (maybe we’ll even get a shot of her playing the musical saw!), Elisha Cuthbert (24, The Girl Next Door) as the elusive Garbo, and Drew Barrymore as mouthy southerner Tallulah Bankhead. After witnessing Barrymore’s surprising mastery of the bizarre New England cadence of Little Edie in Grey Gardens, I’d love to hear what she could do with an Alabama drawl.

PLOT POINTS: We should definitely get a glimpse of de Acosta’s formative years in New York City, where she was raised by a Spanish mother and Cuban father, and then fast-foward to 1916, when at the age of 23, she began her “career” as paramour to the stars with a scandalous affair with actress Alla Nazimova.

Of course, we’ll need to see some evidence of her affairs with Dietrich, Garbo, Bankhead and Duncan, as well as the reaction shots of her famous former lovers when she publishes her tell-all memoir, Here Lies The Heart, in 1960. (Think of The L Word gang’s response to “Lez Girls,” multiplied by 1,000.)

TAKE A POPCORN BREAK: During de Acosta’s travels through India in the 1930s, when she was became interested in Eastern spirituality (Indian mystic Meher Baba once assured her that she and Garbo had been married in a previous life). As a friend once told me when I complained about our decidedly non-interactive tour of Graceland (listening to a pre-recorded guide on our headsets), “Most truly spiritual experiences are private anyway.”

SHOULD BE DIRECTED BY: Julie Taymor, the woman who brought us into the lush worlds of Titus and Frida should be able to capture the decadence of old Hollywood and the larger-than-life stars who invented the term “glamour.”

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