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Through the Looking-Glass…Top 200 Most Anticipated Films of 2017: #6. Walter Hill’s Tomboy, A Revenger’s Tale

Tomboy, A Revenger’s Tale

Director: Walter Hill
Writers: Walter Hill, Denis Hamill

Following a remarkable year in cinematic transgender representation with films like Sean Baker’s Tangerine, Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl, and Gaby Dellal’s About Ray, not to mention prolific public figures such as Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox maintaining notable visibility, positive depictions of the transgender community have marked 2015 as a watershed year. But not unlike the first wave queer theory which bitterly criticized historically negative depictions of LGBT characters prior to the early 90s New Queer Cinema movement, Trans representation is under increased scrutiny, which results in severe cultural policing. One of the reasons we fail to see queer characters utilized in contemporary genre film is due to an exploitative history we’ve been unable to divorce ourselves from, those unseemly memories of demeaning cinematic representation. Comedy and horror were once the only ‘low brow’ avenues proliferated by characters labeled ‘subversive,’ because this type of cinema flies under the cultural radar. But now, they’re equally subjected to the same sanitization. Respect and awareness is tantamount, as it levels the playing field of representation, but until we’re able to stop pointing out the innate differences between the queer and the heteronormative, there will remain an awkwardness and discomfort in the arena of ownership. Assumedly, all representatives making up the LGBT acronym know what it feels like to be judged on appearance alone—so it’s doubly important we do not similarly perpetuate these same standards. The goal is not to mirror the heteronormative, but exist on our own terms.

The preface regards the negative backlash against the new film from genre auteur Walter Hill, Tomboy, A Revenger’s Tale. Prior to production, the film’s logline caused a curt dismissal from GLAAD representative Nick Adams who cited the project as a disappointment for sensationalizing sex reassignment surgery as a mere plot device. However, Adams also admitted to not having read the script, making such an uninformed opinion rather unfortunate since one would hope a spokesperson for GLAAD would know better than to judge a book by its cover. It is impossible to convey a knowledgeable opinion concerning a text one has not had the opportunity to engage with directly. Unfortunately, the ignorance of GLAAD’s statement fuels the flames of those slavish enough to align themselves to rhetoric without question, an instance not unlike a tendency for Bible thumpers misquoting a text they incorrectly paraphrase because they’ve never actually read it.

Hill’s scenario involves a hit man played by Michelle Rodriguez forced to undergo sex reassignment as punishment before seeking vengeance on those responsible, including the surgeon (Sigourney Weaver) who performed the procedure. Of course, savvy audiences will recognize similarities to Pedro Almodovar’s 2011 title The Skin I Live In or even Fassbinder’s In a Year with 13 Moons (1978). With actors like Rodriguez (who is openly bisexual) and Sigourney Weaver attached, one would assume Hill’s finished product isn’t going to champion archaic notions of transgendered identity—but we won’t know until we see it.

Until then, we’re quite excited to see director/producer Hill tackle something atypical in his filmography, while the project is produced by Said Ben Said, who often finances offbeat auteur fare (recently Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars, Philippe Garrel’s In the Shadow of Women, and Verhoeven’s upcoming Elle). And we can’t forget to note this is Michelle Rodriguez’s first headlining role since 2000’s Girlfight, another film challenging conditioned gender norms. But as understanding and universal acceptance for Trans identity progresses, we look forward to embracing all kinds of multifaceted representations of transgendered experiences, as well as continuing to allow opportunities for performers to defy labels and stereotypes. To combat institutionalized homophobia, gay and lesbian actors should be allowed to represent their heterosexual counterparts, and vice versa, as this allows greater fluidity and less adherence to the confines of socially defined labels. Continually reinforcing what makes us superficially different from one another only succeeds in distracting us from the undisputed truth of our equality as human beings.

Cast: Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub, Anthony LaPaglia, Caitlin Gerard

Production Co./Producer: SBS Productions’ Said Ben Said, Michel Merkt.

U.S. Distributor: Rights Available. TBD (domestic) SBS Distribution (France).

Release Date: Walter Hill’s most notable period was in the late 70’s through 80s, thanks to items such as The Warriors (1979) and 48 Hrs. (1982). Since taking his name off the dismal sci-fi item Supernova in 2000, Hill has only directed three other features since, the last being 2012’s Bullet to the Head, a kind of recapitulation of Hill’s favored action motifs starring Sylvester Stallone. Though it’s been decades since anything from Hill appeared at a film festival (he competed at Cannes in 1980 with critically acclaimed western The Long Riders), we’re wondering if SBS might attempt obtaining international distribution following a premiere at a genre fest, or potentially at TIFF.

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Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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