Angelina, The Actor/Director, and Why There Really May Be No Such Thing as Bad Publicity.
I should probably start this post with a disclaimer. I was raised in Los Angeles by non-industry parents, which is kind of like the Hollywood equivalent of being a Muggle. When I was 18, I left home for NYU Film School and spent my off-hours interning at Miramax during the golden years when Harvey Weinstein reigned with an iron fist and a wandering eye. When I graduated, I returned to the West Coast and got to work in the mailrooms of Hollywood, because when you're 21 and all you really want to do is direct, there's pretty much nowhere you can learn the ins and outs of an industry that chews people up and spits them out like Bubble Yum faster than taking a swim in the shark tank of a Beverly Hills talent agency. And guess what? Nearly a decade later, I'm shockingly somehow not a beautiful Academy Award-winning actress directing my first feature, so if you find just a bit of snark and bitterness in my tone when talking about Angelina and her big fancy directorial debut? Let's just chalk it up to that, okay?
As if it's not enough that she's all gorgeous and has a gaggle of international babies and millions of dollars AND Brad Pitt and a Golden Globe nomination this year -- now Angelina Jolie is adding director to the list of things she will probably be annoyingly better at than me. And of course, she's being all Angelina about it, and NOT starring in the movie herself (which is way more than can be said for you, Barbara "The Mirror Has Two Faces" Streisand), making it all that much harder for me to hate on her for it. Touche, Angie. I've always enjoyed a challenge.
So right off the bat, Angelina is kind of setting herself apart from your average, everyday A-List actor-directors. Sure, she's not the first. Salma Hayek did it on Maldonado Miracle. Woody Allen's even done it, but not until well after it became absurd for him to play his own leading man. (I mean, seriously, Woodster -- I was genuinely surprised you didn't cast yourself in the Jonathan Rhys Meyers role in Match Point. Actually, THAT I would probably have paid to see for pure gross-out value alone, but I digress.)
The way I see it, there are a few different categories of Actor-Director hyphenates:
1. The "I-made-a-wrong-turn-and-ended-up-with-an-acting-career-and-now-I'm-going-to-direct-my-way-out-of-it" hyphenate. These are the Clint Eastwoods and the Ben Afflecks of the world, guys who often turn out to be better directors than they ever were actors and go on to do some truly great films. -- maybe even drawing a few solid performances out of themselves in the process. (You thought I was gonna say Sly Stallone, didn't you? The problem is, continuing on with a one-note acting career after a strong coming-out as an actor/director kind of negates your greatness.)
2. The "I've-rocked-it-all-so-I-might-as-well-rock-this-too" hyphenate. And yes, I'm lookin' at you, Robert DeNiro. And you too, Warren Beatty, you fine piece of gracefully aging talent. I'm not saying this crop of directors is no good. Angie herself cites Bobby D (along with Michael Winterbottom and the aforementioned Mr. Eastwood) as one of her directing mentors, calling him a true "actor's director."
3. The flat-out-egomaniac. These are the hyphenates that cast themselves regardless of whether or not they are best for the role. To me, this category is defined by Woody Allen. (I'll go ahead and duck while you throw eggs.)
4. The "passion project" hyphenate. They must tell this story. (See: Denzel Washington's Great Debaters and Drew Barrymore's Whip It..) For Ms. Jolie, this seems to be the case. Which category I'll end up filing her under remains to be seen (which I know is keeping her up at night).
If you don't follow the goings-on of Tinseltown like it's your job (which, to be clear, kind of is my job), then let me get you up to speed on the rocky road that's been Angie's first foray into the (undoubtedly conflict-free-diamond encrusted) director's chair. And the writer's chair, for that matter. Did you know she wrote this sucker, too? Because she did.
Ange, who has never been one to shy away from the complicated and unpleasant in her acting roles, is tackling quite a doozy with her first feature -- the [as yet untitled] love story of young couple -- a Serbian solider and a Bosnian woman -- who fall in love just before the beginning of the Bosnian war. The backdrop is horrifying, and the story controversial enough that the Women Victims of War association sought to have production prevented from shooting on location in Bosnia.
Meridith of The Daily Femme analyzes the fracas from the protesters' perspective:
To many Bosnian women...this isn’t an innocuous love story in the works. The plot line touches on a highly sensitive subject: the wartime mass rapes of tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims by primarily Serb perpetrators. Many of these victims have spoken out against Jolie’s film project, especially members of organizations such as the Women Victims of War association and the Association of Concentration Camp Torture Survivors....As the leader of the Women Victims of War association put it, “what we have gone through cannot be filmed."
Debates over this project raise some weighty questions and ethical dilemmas. For starters, who has the right to tell -- or not tell -- a particular story? It feels wrong to me that these women, the victims and survivors of horrific sexual assault, seem to hold little to no sway over if and how a film is made about the historical context of their attacks. On the other hand, there has yet to be any proof about the rumor that one of the main characters raped the woman who eventually becomes his lover. If the movie turns out to be a story about consensual love across the lines drawn by warring contingents, there could be a powerful message of tolerance that emerges (Romeo and Juliet, anyone?).
The ever-eloquent Melissa Silverstein of Women and Hollywood breaks down the brouhaha a little differently:
This is Angelina Jolie we are talking about here. This is a woman who has dedicated her life to making the world aware of issues that are so easily ignored. This is not Roman Polanski making a film about date rape. And I would venture that even though the film is produced by Graham King, it’s most probably not a big budget Hollywood flick. It’s a vanity project that she gets to make so that she signs on to King’s next big action flick....I just feel it makes no sense to demonize her and her film before reading the script and seeing the movie.
The latest twist is that Bosnian rape victims group The Women Victims of War have called for a meeting with Jolie to iron out issues about the film. They are very upset about the fact that the film could have (nobody really knows) a woman fall in love with her rapist. The group said that they were “deeply concerned” about the film. Then they went even further and called her “ignorant” and are asking the UN to remove her as an ambassador.
As for Angelina herself, although she initially took a complaisant approach, asking the group to reserve judgment until they saw the film, she recently defended her pet project to Reuters:
"There's one person who has a gripe," Jolie said.
"The absolute majority of the people, population, the cast, prime minister, president have been extremely supportive," she said, adding that 95 percent of the film's cast had lived through the war.
One thing is certain -- with an undiscovered cast and tough-to-swallow subject matter, Ange is doing something right publicity-wise. I'm curious as hell to see if the protesters are overreacting based on bad information, or if the Goodwill Ambassador and mother of six is really as insensitive as they claim.
What do you think? Is this Angie's story to tell or is she overstepping her boundaries? Will you see the film?
Morgan (The818) is a blogger and screenwriter living in Los Angeles. She overshares her personal life -- complete with curse words -- at The818.com, talks art and design over at Cargoh.com, and tweets: @the818.