Recently, I wrote a piece about Disney star Zendaya initially taking on the role of Aaliyah and how it connected to Disney letting their stars have freedom to do other projects. While the media assumes that Zendaya and her family were the ones to make the decision to pull out of this biopic project, you have to wonder how much pressure from Disney also existed. They still seem overly protective of their star kin, even if they ultimately can’t contain them later as we’ve all seen with Miley Cyrus. Overall, though, there might have been more pressure from the Aaliyah fans that didn’t think Zendaya was appropriate enough to play the role.
When you get that much flak from the public, you have to take it seriously. This isn’t to say some just ignore it, like Ben Affleck letting all the petitions roll off his back in trying to remove him from playing the role of Batman. When you have avid moviegoers attempting to create petitions to remove you from a role, you should probably take it seriously. Fortunately, Affleck isn’t playing a real person like he did in “Argo.” Most of the general public didn’t know Tony Mendez, hence giving a lucky break to Affleck in the biopic department.
Playing someone overly well known is becoming a much bigger issue in the world of biopics. And with plenty more biopics on the horizon about legendary people, you have to wonder how much scrutiny they’re going to get after years of many biopics taking more chances and not getting things accurate. For many, just capturing the essence of someone notable from history isn’t enough.
Should Actors Listen to Public Response First?
Some of the harsh lessons learned in not getting information correct came recently with “Grace of Monaco” with Nicole Kidman playing Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco. For whatever reason, the kids of Kelly didn’t gain access to the script beforehand to give any sense of approval or insight into what was the truth and what wasn’t. That’s a typical misstep of biopics in recent years where the excuse of art overrides any sense of accuracy. And it can make you sick in realizing just how inaccurate many biopics over the years are once you delve into the truths of a notable life. It renders some biopics almost unwatchable as a result.
Many biopics seem to assume that nobody’s read up on some of these lives and only know them on the surface from pop culture. “Grace of Monaco” seemed to take this idea, plus attempting to guess at what went on behind closed doors. The kids of Princess Grace blasted the film outright for being inaccurate in that approach, hence probably destroying chances for it to succeed even on Blu-ray after being pulled from theatrical release this last spring.
What does that bode for the future of the biopic, especially in high profile projects about once ubiquitous figures?
Are Lesser-Known Figures Better for Biopics?
Just this year alone we’ll be getting several biopics on some of the most notable names in music history. “Get on Up” about James Brown will have Chadwick Boseman playing the Godfather of Soul. Also, a movie about Freddy Mercury will be out, plus upcoming projects about Whitney Houston and (in the works via Don Cheadle), Miles Davis.
All of the above arguably should have had public input on who’s suitable to play those figures considering those legends influenced music and the public in large degrees. The public should also be privy to what the basic approach will be and whether it’s going to be based on facts or fictionalized accounts. While scripts have to be kept secret, letting the public know basically what to expect can help the producers figure out what the public will really warm to.
It may have to be the new approach to biopics as the whole genre falls under more scrutiny lately in falling under the traps of using old biopic stereotypes. For some, it’s not enough to look at a real life as an artistic vision when we want more clarity in history to help understand it better.
Part of the way toward fixing this may be in taking on lives we don’t know all that much about. Alan Turing, for instance, isn’t a household name, even if he should be. With Turing the (grand)father of artificial intelligence, Benedict Cumberbatch will be playing him in a movie this year called “The Imitation Game.” Also, movies on wrestling coach turned murderer John du Pont (played in a naturalistic way by Steve Carell) will be an example of someone we don’t know all that well being more open to interpretation.
Hollywood may go that way more often so they don’t have to face such overwhelming response as fans of Aaliyah did with Zendaya. When there’s a fanbase protecting a household name years after they die, it’s going to be a chorus that hopefully changes biopics to being more accurate if we continue to artistically depict the legends.