Ethan and Maya Hawke in the film Wildcat by Flannery O’Connor – The Hollywood Reporter

In Wild catIn Ethan Hawke’s Flannery O’Connor drama, which premiered Friday at the Telluride Film Festival, a smug white woman (Laura Linney) riding a city bus gives a black kid a penny. In response, the boy’s mother slaps the white woman’s face, and the hypocrisy quickly turns to shock.

It’s easy to imagine a contemporary viral video version of this moment trending on social media and sparking arguments over privilege. But the scene is from O’Connor’s 1961 O. Henry Prize-winning short story. Everything that rises must convergeand it’s part of the way the filmmakers unveil the Georgia-born author’s background in the Jim Crow South and her evolution on the issue of race.

“Flannery O’Connor wrote about what she knew, and what she knew was white hypocrisy,” says Maya Hawke, who plays multiple roles in the film, including the writer. “What she could see was, ‘Oh, I don’t know how to fix this, but I see there’s something deeply sick about this space that I grew up in and live in. ‘”

The film, one of the festival’s titles to be distributed, is an intersection between O’Connor’s real biography, as she launched a literary career while suffering from lupus, and scenes from her stories, including The life you save could be your own, Parker is back And epiphany. O’Connor, who won the 1972 National Book Award and featured on a US postage stamp in 2015, is credited for penning astute, anti-racist parables and profound explorations of her Catholic faith. More recently, however, she has come under scrutiny for racist remarks in her personal writings, particularly in her youth.

Revealing her own history of racism makes O’Connor a complicated character in a modern biopic, but that hasn’t deterred the filmmakers. “If you don’t look at it, it doesn’t magically get better, that’s the problem,” says Ethan. “Right now there’s a pervasive thought that we’re just not going to talk about things that are hurtful and angry. And then they just fester in a closet. I came to see it [O’Connor] Like studying this beautiful tree. She grew up in Jim Crow South, where she was fed and raised. We examined a magnificent tree, but that’s where it grew. And she’s looked at it all, and she’s really looked at it, but she’s in.”

The emergence of Wild cat came from Maya’s high school English homework to read O’Connor (thanks to Mr. Rutter of St. Ann’s School in Brooklyn). The 25-year-old actress, daughter of Ethan and Uma Thurman, found a soul mate and a glimpse of big ideas in O’Connor. At 15 she was reading O’Connor’s A prayer journalWritten while the author was a student at the University of Iowa in 1946 and ’47.”prayer journal There was this young woman in me who traded her desire to be great with the fear that she wouldn’t be,” says Maya. “And with her knowledge that wanting to be great got in the way of her ability to be herself.”

Maya held a monologue from A prayer journal as part of her audition for Julliard (she got in before dropping out to take on a role in a 2017 BBC production little woman). In 2019 after starring in Netflix Season 3 stranger thingsMaya met with Joe Goodman, the copyright owner of O’Connor’s life and work, hoping to find a fair solution A prayer journal. It was at this point that Maya brought in her father and his producing partner and his wife Ryan to help her shoot a film, and Ethan saw the potential to tell a bigger story. “I saw it as a great opportunity [Goodman] “It was so obsessed that you could actually use Flannery’s letters, her stories, and her own writing to take a portrait of her and have her tell her own story,” says Ethan. He saw some of O’Connor’s fictional Southern female characters as versions of her mother, Regina O’Connor, played by Linney in the film, and began co-writing the screenplay with Shelby Gaines. “I realized that through Flannery’s creativity and double casting, we could create a portrait of these people,” says Ethan. “And that could be something we’ve never seen before.”

The film explores the many ways in which O’Connor was an outsider during her time in Georgia: as a Catholic in the Protestant South, as a person with a disability due to lupus, and as a Nordic-educated woman. “She was a weird peacock in her own life,” says Linney. “So it makes sense that she would tackle all of these issues the way she did, with such panache and such precise imagination, and really by sticking her finger in a lamp socket.”

Wild catThe producers signed one of the Screen Actors Guild tentative agreements, allowing them to promote the film during the ongoing Telluride actors’ strike. When asked if he was concerned that signing this agreement would hamper the sale of the film, Ethan says, “I’m glad I’m not selling this film to anyone who doesn’t meet SAG’s requirements. When you’ve spent $60 million on a movie and you want everyone in the world to see it and make lunch boxes out of it, that’s a different goal. This is a very adventurous film. It’s also a bit punk.”

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