Queers On Film: Stoked For Kristen Stewart as Lizzie Borden’s Lover, Raging Over Michelle Rodriguez’s “Gender-Swapped” Assassin

We’ve been doing pretty well with lesbian movies this season — Freeheld is wonderful and devastating and Carol might be the best lesbian movie ever made. Meanwhile, Stonewall, The Danish Girl and About Ray each found their own unique way to misrepresent and malign trans people.

Three new movies were announced yesterday with lesbian or bisexual characters and/or actors, and although I generally don’t care about the future and don’t like movies, these films remain relevant to my interests. Well, two of them do. One of them looks awful and we just want to bitch about it with you.

So let’s take a look at The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!


The Good: Hannah Hart in “Dirty Thirty”

grace-mamrie-hannah

The big guns at Lionsgate have picked up “Dirty Thirty,” a comedy starring YouTube sueprstars Grace Helbig, Mamrie Hart and Hannah Hart. The longform digital film is about a birthday party that goes off the rails, and was co-written by Mamrie and Molly Prather. 2014’s Camp Takota was a hit, and partnering with Lionsgate will bring this winsome threesome to a whole ‘nother level. We are basically assuming that Hannah will be playing a queer character because you know — it’s Hannah.


The Bad: Michelle Rodriguez in “Tomboy: A Revenger’s Tale”

You bet your ass this dress came with a matching flogger

Don’t get too excited by the title. Michelle Rodriguez will not actually be playing a tomboy. In fact, if The Human Centipede didn’t exist, this particular flick would be a strong contender for the Worst Movie Idea of All Time. Rodriguez will be playing a male “ace assassin” who gets double-crossed by gangsters and is then forced to receive gender reassignment surgery under the guardianship of a rogue surgeon played by Sigourney Weaver. The assassin is horrified to wake up as a woman and sets out TO GET REVENGE, “aided by a nurse named Johnnie, who also has secrets.” I hope Johnnie’s secret is that he works for GLAAD and is going to yell at everybody by the end of the movie.

Apparently the project originally had Frieda Pinto involved but “Pinto is no longer involved.” Good job Frieda Pinto! GLAAD has already weighed in on the project, declaring, “We haven’t read the script, but it’s disappointing to see filmmakers turning what is a life-saving medical procedure for transgender people into a sensationalistic plot device. We are at a crucial moment in the public’s understanding of transgender issues, and stories like these have the potential to undermine the progress we’ve worked so hard to achieve.” It’s also a ridiculously misogynistic premise, period. It’s bad for women, bad for tomboys and bad for trans people.

Plus it’s not even about a trans person, although it’s already being billed as a movie about a “transgender hitman.” A trans woman is a woman who was assigned male at birth, this movie is about a man who was assigned male at birth and is surgically altered against his will to more closely resemble a cisgender woman. As our Trans editor Mey Rude told me, “It seems like the cheapest way to capitalize on the trans “trend” that I’ve maybe ever heard. Having surgery doesn’t turn a person from a man into a woman, it just changes how he looks. Also it makes me sad that Michelle Rodriguez and Sigourney Weaver, two actresses I love, would agree to be in a movie like this.”

The story is based on a story by Denis Hamill. This isn’t the first time Hamill’s work has been adapted for the big screen — previous projects include “Critical Condition,” which starred Richard Pryor as a con man who fakes insanity to avoid jail time and then finds an opportunity to impersonate a doctor during the chaos of a power failure. Walter Hill, known for The Warriors and 48 Hours, will direct.

The film will come out in 2017, by which time everybody will already hate it.


The Ugly BUT AMAZING: Kristen Stewart in a Lizzie Borden movie

US actress Kristen Stewart poses prior to attend Chanel 2015 Haute Couture Spring-Summer collection fashion show on January 27, 2015 at the Grand Palais in Paris. AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS GUILLOT (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)

I’m sorry but I am obsessed with the Lizzie Borden story, so I cannot even be upset that the only film on this list that promises actual lesbian action (“actual lesbian action” is a top criteria for me when assessing a work of art) is about a sociopathic axe murderer. I’m also of the mind that stories like this aren’t necessarily offensive because the crime in question is so singular that it doesn’t really reflect on the lesbian/bisexual/queer female population in general. It’s the more subtle yet absolutely misleading and damaging contemporary tropes peddled by movies like Chasing Amy that fuck us up. Also it’s nice to hear that this film already isn’t intending to cut the lesbian parts out, like so many stories based on historical events do.

Last year’s Lizzie Borden Chronicles TV series starring Christina Ricci fizzled for me much like WGN’s Salem did — it was compelling at first, but once it began veering dangerously off the course of the historical story it was based on, it got stupider and stupider and became eventually unwatchable.

Director Pieter Van Hees is taking his own crack at the story with a film starring Chloe Sevigny as Lizzie Borden and Kristen Stewart as her live-in maid, Bridget Sulliva, with whom Borden obviously had a love affair. I CAN’T WAIT.

Riese is the 37-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2646 articles for us.

36 Comments

  1. Honestly, the thing I find the most aggravating about Tomboy is the fact that it perpetuates the idea that a single surgical procedure will suddenly make someone AMAB look like Michelle Rodriguez, instead of the years-long process that transitioning really is (Hell, I *wish* it was that easy!).

    I mean, even if you got facial surgery, voice surgery, GRS, and breast augmentation all in one go, it still doesn’t change the fact that you’d probably still have a pretty male-looking frame/body type, body hair, and (unless someone remembered to include electrolysis/laser hair removal), facial hair. And surgery won’t fix any of those-only HRT will (or deliberate removal, in the case of facial hair).

  2. As to the Lizzie Borden movie, personally, I’m okay with queer killers or evil characters in movies as I’d like to see queer women infiltrate EVERY part of pop-culture. It’s just when they are handled ineptly by straight, male writers who make their queerness the reason for their transgressions or criminality as opposed to “Hi, I’m an axe-murder but I’m also a lesbian/trans/queer, and neither has much to do with the other.”

    But don’t even get me started on that Tomboy movie…

    • I would second that and would also love a paper that discusses the choice to cast a cismen vs ciswomen in trans women’s roles and why cisman in trans women’s roles are so much more popular. Not relevant to this movie, which is it’s only, I don’t want to say bright spot, but less horrific part.

  3. Perhaps someone’s already done this, but I would love to read a paper on the choice of the gender of cis-people cast in trans roles says something about how the movie treats/considers/depicts trans people. Especially trans women and the ‘sex appeal’ of the trans character.

    Also that movie sounds so horrible on so many different levels it makes me slightly ill.

  4. When I first read this description for Tomboy “Sigourney Weaver to make Michelle Rodriguez into a woman in Tomboy” I thought it was going to be a cheesy this is how to be a girl and use your feminine powers with make up and dress and heels, and I rolled my eyes and thought will this 90s nostalgia never end. Both depressed and impressed that this is so. much. worse.

  5. That Tomboy movie sounds so horribly offensive that I’m surprised it’s not being directed by Uwe Boll. What’s really going to be fun though are all the sure to be insulting interviews that are going to take place when and if this movie actually gets released. I can’t wait for the Michelle Rodriguez ones in particular. I can always count on her to outdo herself with the word vomit. She never disappoints.

    I am truly interested in the Lizzie Borden movie though. I have seen a few adaptations of that story as well as the tv show. I actually liked the tv show. I know it was far from being historically accurate but it had it’s moments. It was just good to see Christina Ricci back on tv in a leading role again.

  6. Ahhhhh, I’m so excited for the Lizzie Borden film. While I find the actual story a little over-hyped, Chloe Sevigny was one of my first lady crushes, and K-Stew is… the glory that is K-Stew (despite her super lame comments about mental illness recently).

  7. “I hope Johnnie’s secret is that he works for GLAAD and is going to yell at everybody by the end of the movie.” YES!

    I really don’t understand how Tomboy is even being made! It sounds so horrible and offensive and awful! Jeez! The premise is so bad!

  8. Sheesh can these movies be any more lacking for diversity? Overall “yay” for white queer folks, but Hollywood has left queer folks of color not so surprisingly ignored. As a Black lesbian I can’t get too excited by these films of the year which so sorely weed out any modicum of invlusiveness.

    Guess intersectionality doesn’t ring a bell. Whomp.

  9. Lizzie Borden, Lizzie Borden, Lizzie Borden!(!!!!) Oh man, am I here for that!

    ALSO everything Hannah/Grace/Mamrie. I’m not into YouTube but fell in love with all 3 of them watching Camp Takota and have never looked back.

  10. I agree that Tomboy sounds awful for the reasons described. Two things that might be OK about it:
    1. I have heard from at least three different trans women that they had the “evil surgeon forced her to ‘become a woman'” fantasy long before they ever learned that being trans was a thing. So, I don’t know, maybe one not-out-to-herself trans woman will get a kick out of the plot and it will help her along? Maybe the writer is a not-out-to-herself trans woman?
    2. I think the plot might actually help the general public “get” trans people. Anyone can see why if you give a dude breasts and a vulva against his will, he is angry and wants revenge. Now it’s a smaller logical leap to see how many actual trans men might feel, having breasts and a vulva against their will.
    Anyway, I hope it will be a trashy movie that might start some good conversations (even if it’s more likely that it will do more harm than good).

  11. “this movie is about a man who was assigned male at birth and is surgically altered against his will to more closely resemble a cisgender woman.”
    Can we talk about how this is also true for Hedwig, which I love but maybe shouldn’t?

    • I also have complicated feelings about Hedwig, especially whenever anyone calls the character trans. I mean, Hedwig does alternate with their identity all over the place, but that seems to have more to do with their traumatic and botched surgery than anything else.

      • Folks, when you have a movie/theatrical piece where the character’s “sex change operation” (even if it’s just intended as a way of leaving a country) is front and center and even a core part of the title, there is zero way that cannot be experienced as about a trans woman in this society. The first thing anyone ever mentions about Hedwig if they’re describing it to someone else who hasn’t heard of it is “there’s this German guy who dresses like a woman and he/she had a botched sex-change operation and now he’s left with a tiny penis” — — — that IS the core part of the story and it’s viewed within a cultural/social context.

  12. Definitely want to watch Dirty Thirty! I watched Camp Takota in Netflix the other night when I was tired of watching TV, and I loved it. I’m not really a huge fan of movies in general because I feel like I get too emotionally sucked into them, and then they end abruptly two hours later and then I feel confused and sad. But I’m totally on board for comedies starring Hannah Hart. A movie involving both Kristen Stewart and axe murdering, though? That will give me too many feelings for sure.

  13. I thought Camp Takota was like a Disney film but with more adult and gay jokes. Which is obviously something I’m super into, so if Mamrie has been involved writing another film, I wanna see it!

  14. I don’t think the Tomboy movie idea is inherently bad. I think the way they are portraying it is bad. Describing the character as transgender is inaccurate, because the character doesn’t identify that way and it’s a forced procedure.

    I do think it could be a cool movie if it was portrayed in the same way most extreme surgical undercover spy movies are done, but with the twist that the “cover” is forced and involves a switch of sex. We’ve seen plenty of futuristic spy movies that have currently unattainable levels of transformations to other people, to even different races and younger people, so I don’t see why this couldn’t be done. I’d even love to see Michelle Rodriguez playing a tough guy cause I’d think she’d do it really well. I think they could have just framed it better and left trans people out it and made it about science fiction.

    • There is no way a man being surgically altered to look like a woman is not going to be trans-themed and have that message projected onto it. The same thing happened with the Almodovar film “The Skin I’m In” where a man (a rapist yet) was surgically altered into looking and sounding like a woman (and also played by an attractive cis woman). Even though the film never mentioned ‘transgender’ most of the reviews and articles about the film completely saw it that way. So, yes, it becomes about trans women even if the word is never used. Try to imagine a film where a person had their skin color changed yet the filmmaker claimed “no, it’s not about race.”

      • But that has happened. They have had spy movies where a spy was changed into a different race. The last person in a movie I saw went from Caucasian to Asian, and it wasn’t about race. It was about hiding identity.

      • I’d be interested to hear what everyone thinks about The Skin I Live In. I enjoyed it at the time but the obvious terrible-ness of Tomboy is making me rethink it. My thoughts about The Skin I Live In are that:

        1) It’s meant to be ridiculous. It’s not saying ‘this is what gender reassignment surgery is like’ – it’s more like a fairy tale/otherworld thing. The fact that the character in flashback before the surgery looks nothing Elena Aneya felt like a deliberate way of saying ‘this is clearly ridiculous and not something that is actually an achievable outcome outside of a world where a surgeon develops magic skin for people.’

        2) There’s a part where one of the surgeons who had been convinced to do the original vaginoplasty confronts Antonio Banderas saying something along the lines of ‘I knew this wasn’t right at the time because nobody does that as the first stage of gender reassignment.’ Which said to me that it wasn’t trying to pretend it had no relation trans-ness, but did explicitly say ‘This is not what being trans looks like.’

        HOWEVER, I was even more clueless about trans issues when I watched it than I am now, and even then it made me feel a bit like ‘Wait this is… not cool’ in some way, so shout me down if need be.

  15. Outta curiosity, what’s your beef with Chasing Amy?
    I’m not trying to start a fight, just have a conversation.
    I thought the movie was a rare thing even by today’s standards in that it talked about how feeling inadequate is your baggage and not your partners, the stupidity of slut shaming, sexual double standards and fetisihizing lesbians, the complexity of sexual identity, and how even if you learn your lesson it doesn’t anyone has to forgive you.

  16. Michelle, Michelle, Michelle…please dont make this movie.
    Kristen, Kristen, Kristen….please make this movie..
    You have both my fav ladies in this 1 article.. now if they could both be in a movie together

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.