Decades in the Making, ‘The Danish Girl’ and ‘Carol’ Show LGBT Films Aren’t Risky Anymore
As a landmark year for gay rights and transgender visibility draws to a close, the timing of two new movies exploring LGBT stories seemingly couldn’t be better. But Carol and The Danish Girl, both period dramas adapted from novels, have been years in the making after studios initially thought the projects were too risky.
“It was seen as a difficult film to finance, to get made, to cast—and there were a lot of people around me who didn’t understand why I wanted to do it,” director Tom Hooper told the Los Angeles Times of the seven years he spent fighting to get The Danish Girl made. In theaters Friday, the Copenhagen-set biopic tells the true story of painter Lili Elbe, the first known transgender person to have received gender reassignment surgery, in 1930.
Producer Gail Mutrux first acquired the rights to David Ebershoff’s novel The Danish Girl in 2000, the same year the fictionalized account of Elbe’s life was published, according to a recent panel discussion and screening with the filmmakers in Los Angeles. Mutrux then sent the novel to screenwriter Lucinda Coxon, who penned the script more than a decade ago. It wasn’t until 2008 that Hooper became attached to the film, which he called a passion project.
For Carol screenwriter Phyllis Nagy, the struggle of getting the book to the big screen took even longer. The former writer in residence at London’s Royal Court Theatre was asked to adapt The Price of Salt—the groundbreaking 1952 lesbian romance novel by Patricia Highsmith that the film is based on—after producer Dorothy Berwin bought the rights in 1996, Nagy told Slate. But by the time the movie finally started filming last year, it had already gone through two sets of producers—Berwin’s rights to the novel had expired, so Elizabeth Karlsen and Christine Vachon bought them—and two different directors, after John Crowley was replaced by Todd Haynes owing to a scheduling conflict.
Nagy believes the fictional tale, set in 1950s Manhattan, faced resistance from film studios for two reasons: For one, it was a same-sex love story, and second, it was a film led by two women—which some studios see as a risky move, even though female-fronted films have proven box-office hits again and again. “It’s already successful critically, but it needs to be financially successful to encourage more female-driven movies to be made,” Nagy told Slate.
Years of production hurdles aside, both The Danish Girl and Carol have received high praise from LGBT activists and advocacy organizations this month. The Danish Girl screened at the White House on Monday along with the Amazon series Transparent during “Champions of Change,” a ceremony honoring LGBT artists. Representatives from the White House were also present at the Human Rights Campaign’s screening of Carol in Washington, D.C., last week, with HRC president Chad Griffin calling it a “tremendously powerful and beautiful film.”