Veteran screenwriter Ron Nyswaner has apologized after saying that producers of his latest film, the gay rights drama Freeheld, “de-gayed” the film out of fear.
Nyswaner was accepting an award at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s 46th anniversary gala Vanguard Awards over the weekend when he said that Freeheld producers “softened” his script and turned the main characters into “lesbians with a lower case l.”
“We must resist the tendency to be de-gayed,” Nyswaner said during his acceptance speech, according to a transcript from The Hollywood Reporter. “One of my recent gay-themed projects had a lot of potential. But the producers became fearful. The gay characters were idealized. Their edges were smoothed out. The conflict between them was softened. Over my vigorous objections by the way, for the record.”
While he did not mention the project by name, Nyswaner was referring to his latest film, Freeheld. The film, starring Julianne Moore and Ellen Page, details the true story of Laurel Hester, a New Jersey police lieutenant who battles to secure pension benefits for her domestic partner, Stacie Andree, after she is diagnosed with terminal cancer.
During his speech, Nyswaner said producers toned down his script “because God forbid someone might think we were making a movie about a couple of d*kes.”
“Out of fear, they were normalized,” he said of the film’s characters. “We must remember — and insist that others honor — our history and our very specific gay culture. We are the inheritors of a culture that was created from pain and invisibility. From being different.”
On Wednesday, Nyswaner apologized for the remarks, calling them “inaccurate and unfair.”
“The producers never suggested that the characters should be anything but thoroughly and proudly gay,” the screenwriter wrote in a lengthy statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “We disagreed over the amount of conflict that should be present in their relationship; I won some arguments and lost others. The movie is satisfying and beautiful in many ways, particularly in the performances of the leads. The script that made it to the screen is weaker than it ought to have been and for that I must accept responsibility. I apologize to my colleagues for the pain my comments have caused.”
Freeheld has earned some Oscar buzz since its limited release in October, particularly for lead actress Julianne Moore, who just picked up her first Academy Award last year for Still Alice. Nyswaner is a veteran screenwriter who earned an Oscar nomination for 1993’s Philadelphia starring Tom Hanks.
At the end of his acceptance speech, Nyswaner vowed he would continue to “create art in which gay characters are not normalized.”
“We don’t have to be normalized to have all of our rights,” he said. “And we don’t have to be normalized to be the main characters of film and TV shows. We can still be f*gs and d*kes.”