Adam Driver and John David Washington in BlacKkKlansman.
Part the power of the new Spike Lee film BlacKkKlansman is how much of its story is rooted in things that actually happened. In the late 1970s, a black detective in Colorado Springs named Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington in the film) really did infiltrate the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan by convincing its members over the phone that he was white. Stallworth actually sent a fellow white officer (played by Adam Driver) undercover as, basically, himself. Stallworth also had a rapport with KKK director David Duke (played by Topher Grace) on the phone, and ended up serving as Duke’s police security detail when Duke visited Colorado Springs. Lee even opens the film with a title card noting that BlacKkKlansman is “based upon some fo’ real, fo’ real sh*t.”
And yet one of the most powerful scenes in the film was wholly invented for the movie — although, true to that title card, it is still rooted in history, namely one of the most sickening and monstrous events of the Jim Crow South.
Early drafts of the BlacKkKlansman script included a scene in which the “white” Stallworth goes through a Klan induction ceremony. Lee and co-screenwriter Kevin Willmott (Chi-Raq) realized they wanted to counter the scene with “the details of what the Klan really is and what they really do,” as Willmott put it to BuzzFeed News.
Director Spike Lee with Topher Grace and Driver on the set of BlacKkKlansman.
Immediately, Willmott thought about the epidemic of lynching that pervaded the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. So he wrote a scene in which the Klan ceremony is intercut with a sequence in which a black activist — played in the film by civil rights icon Harry Belafonte — visits the local black student union, and shares his experience witnessing the real-life lynching of Jesse Washington.
On May 15, 1916, Washington, a 17-year-old farm worker, was convicted of the rape and murder of a white woman in Waco, Texas. After the verdict was rendered, he was pulled by a mob from the courthouse. A chain was wrapped around his neck. He was hit with bricks and knives, hung from a tree outside the Waco City Hall, castrated, repeatedly dangled over a fire, and ultimately burned alive. Some 15,000 people watched. The police did nothing to stop it.
“There were so many lynchings in the United States, and people will occasionally see a photograph,” said Willmott. “The Waco lynching is one of the most horrific in American history. … The Jesse Washington photograph is one you often see, but no one knows the story behind it. That was one of the reasons why we picked that one. It seemed to be a perfect fit.”
Willmott said that he wanted a “counternarrative” to the Klan’s narrative of white racial purity, to underline precisely where the rhetoric of white supremacy will lead. Washington’s lynching, he said, “really tells you what the end result is of everything they’re talking about. This is where that ends up, and this is what that really looks like.”
It’s also a moment when BlacKkKlansman broadens its scope to demonstrate how violent white supremacy isn’t limited to just the Klan. About half the population of Waco reportedly witnessed Washington’s lynching. “That was the pattern: The town knew about it, and, in fact, the town really embraced it,” said Willmott. “It became a public event.”
David Lee / Focus Features
Harry Belafonte in BlacKkKlansman.
Modern audiences could look upon the widespread acceptance of lynching 100 years ago and wonder “How could they be like that?” For Willmott, the answer was simple: “It was very normal — at the time.”
Willmott also noted that the underlying impulses that allowed for lynchings to become so normalized are still very much alive today. Lee deliberately chose to release the film on the one-year anniversary of the racist marches in Charlottesville that resulted in one person’s death; he even ends the film with footage from those marches, including David Duke speaking in praise of President Trump.
“There’s lots of connections today in terms of how bizarre, insane things are being accepted,” Willmott said. “I think we’ll be looking back even in a few years, and we’ll be going, How could we have accepted this kind of behavior as something normal?”
Just a few examples: “The film business passed away today with the announcement of the ‘popular’ film Oscar,” tweeted actor Rob Lowe. Actor Elijah Wood was more succinct, tweeting, “Best Popular Film? oof.”
Director Edgar Wright tweeted out a box office chart of the top grossing movies of 2018 with the line, “Isn’t this the award for Popular Movie?” And journalist Mark Harris tweeted incredulity that the Academy would create a popular film award the same year that Black Panther became the most popular movie of the year: “It truly is something that in the year … a movie made just about entirely by and with black people, grosses $700 million, the Academy’s reaction is, ‘We need to invent something separate…but equal.'”
But the reaction has not been uniformly negative.
“This is a dialogue that will continue up until the show,” producer Michael Shamberg (Erin Brockovich) told BuzzFeed News, referring to the social media uproar about the popular film category. “It will transform into ‘what should win,’ not ‘should they do it or not.’ And you’re going to get a lot of people invested in one of those great internet conversations about what should win, and that internet conversation is going to attract the audience that the Academy wants to watch the show. So it’s all for the good.” (Shamberg is a consultant for BuzzFeed Studios.)
The Academy’s decision to create the category was widely seen as an acknowledgement that the awards ceremony and the awards themselves have fallen out of step with popular tastes. Eight out of the last 10 Best Picture winners grossed less than $100 million at the domestic box office, and viewership for the most recent Oscar telecast were down 19% from the previous year. And the operating budget for the Academy largely depends on the fees paid by ABC for the rights to broadcast the Oscars.
“They need to do everything they can to keep the show relevant.”
“The reality is the Academy needed to do something,” said Kevin O’Connell, who won Best Sound Mixing Oscar for the 2016 film Hacksaw Ridge. “They rely too heavily on the revenue from the awards show for their own existence not [to] do anything. They need to do everything they can to keep the show relevant, give the audience an experience they can’t get any place else and, most of all, get the ratings back up.”
Whether the popular film category is the best route to that goal remains an open question. “The joke is, they have enough data to know that isn’t going to improve the ratings,” a film industry insider with knowledge of how the Academy operates told BuzzFeed News. “This is just a public relations ploy to make them look relevant to ABC. There’s no way Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World and all these films that are popular [that would be nominated] are going to make people tune in to see which one wins, because at that point, who cares?”
The insider also pointed out that the bifurcation of the top prize for live-action filmmaking could end up damaging the chances of popular film nominees from winning Best Picture.
“If you get a popular nomination, doesn’t that pretty much mean you’re toast to win Best Picture if you’re also nominated for Best Picture?” the insider said. “You’ve just been labeled a popcorn movie.”
A major film producer, who has backed a Best Picture nominee and several popular blockbuster popcorn movies, agreed that having two categories would dilute the prestige of the award.
“Now we’re saying there should be two awards,” the producer said. “One is the Rotten Tomato, and the other is the Box Office Mojo. That doesn’t actually seem like a good idea at all.”
Not so, said Shamberg.
Warner Bros. Pictures
Blockbuster movies Mad Max: Fury Road, Dunkirk, and Gravity were all recent Best Picture nominees.
“Look at all the nominations that Mad Max: Fury Road got, and won,” he said of the 2015 blockbuster hit. “It didn’t win Best Picture, but it sure got a lot of attention.” (In fact, Fury Road won the most Oscars that year.)
Shamberg also argued that, by forcing Academy members to seriously consider popular movies for Oscar consideration, they may begin to see those movies in a different light, and not be so ready to dismiss them as popcorn fluff.
“This is a way to get everybody to think differently about the show — the audience and the Academy voters,” he said. “Maybe it will drive a lot voters to see movies that they don’t normally see. The artistry in Black Panther is undeniable. It’s just undeniable.”
Several people who spoke to BuzzFeed News also pointed to the Academy’s recent efforts to substantively make its membership younger and more diverse as a positive and effective way to change which kinds of films get nominated.
“I think the need for another category will be less relevant in the future because of the changes the Academy is making to the membership,” said Ben Grossman, who won a Best Visual Effects Oscar for 2012’s Hugo. “As it gets younger and more diverse, the nominations will reflect an appetite for movies more inline with popular opinion.”
“I have no idea how you’re going to come up with any kind of criteria that is not going to just aggravate the hell out of people.”
Just what the word “popular” even means with regard to this category remains unclear — the Academy has only clarified that films nominated for the new category would also be eligible for Best Picture. That vacuum has spurred a great deal of the confusion and apprehension about the popular film category, as well as speculation that it may not ever come to pass.
“We’ll see what happens,” said the insider. “[The Academy] may just say, ‘Ah, never mind, we’re going to think this out a little more.’ Because clearly, it’s not well thought out.”
Either way, the ability to please everyone is likely next to impossible.
“I have no idea how you’re going to come up with any kind of criteria that is not going to just aggravate the hell out of people,” the producer said.
He also noted that Netflix, which famously does not divulge viewership numbers for any of its films or TV shows, would run into serious problems getting its features nominated for the popular films category. Then he stopped short, and laughed.
“If this is some brilliant strategy that is designed to force Netflix to reveal their [audience] metrics,” he said, “maybe I could get behind it.”
Michael Blackmon and Krystie Yandoli contributed to this report.
For the last three decades, if you’ve seen a Broadway show with costumes you adore, chances are high they were designed by William Ivey Long. He’s responsible for the jazzy, slinky garments in the long-running revival of Chicago, the Weimar Republic seediness of the garb in the revivals of Cabaret, and the ’50s Day-Glo pizzazz of the frocks in Hairspray. He’s done gangsters (Guys and Dolls) and princesses (Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella), cartoony comedy (Seussical) and gritty realism (A Streetcar Named Desire), and con artists both earnest (The Music Man) and unscrupulous (The Producers).
He won his first Tony Award for designing the lavish and ribald costumes for the 1982 Best Musical, Nine, when he was just 34; to date, he’s been nominated for 15 Tonys and won six. He’s done the costumes for the live TV productions of Grease and A Christmas Story. He’s been profiled by Vogue and Vanity Fair. And he recently concluded a four-year stint as the chair of the American Theatre Wing, the organization behind the Tonys.
Yet Long’s largest legacy in the world of theater isn’t in New York, but rather on the northernmost tip of Roanoke Island, a squat, 8-mile strip of land along the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It’s where audiences have swarmed to an expansive outdoor theater to watch the same show every summer since 1937: The Lost Colony, a chronicle of the English settlement on Roanoke Island that mysteriously disappeared in the late 16th century. It’s where Long’s parents first met, while working on the show in the 1940s. It’s where, since 1994, Long has overseen the show’s production design, supervising dozens of crew members, many still in college and working their first professional job in theater.
And it’s where, in the summer of 1995, Long met one of them: Michael Martin.
The handsome Florida State University undergrad had aspired to life as a stage actor ever since he played the lead in Little Shop of Horrors his junior year of high school. So when he landed a job at The Lost Colony as an actor-technician — basically, a chorus member who also helps out backstage — Martin was thrilled to join a show that many regard as a noteworthy stepping-stone to standing on a Broadway stage, especially with someone of Long’s rarefied pedigree involved. Martin was even more ecstatic when, returning for the following summer, he was told that Long had seen something in his artistic abilities, and he was moving to the props department.
That’s when everything began to fall apart. In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Martin, now 43, alleges that over the course of the multi-week rehearsal period leading up to the opening of the show in late May 1996, Long relentlessly harassed him verbally and physically, even after Martin had made it clear he had no interest in reciprocating Long’s advances. In one particularly striking moment, Martin recalled Long praising his painting work, in front of other members of the crew — to distract them while he slid his hand inside the back of Martin’s underwear.
But because Long was such an icon of Broadway theater — by that point, he’d already won his second Tony — Martin believed he had to acquiesce to Long’s behavior, or at least endure it. It was common knowledge on The Lost Colony that Long could help launch a person’s Broadway career — or kill it.
“If someone had walked onto that show who had even been on Broadway, we would’ve been like, Royalty is among us,” Martin said. “The fact that somebody had Tony Awards meant that you were in the presence of a god. So anything he did was fine. And anything he said was right.”
“So anything he did was fine. And anything he said was right.”
Through his lawyer, Long denied ever sexually harassing Martin or touching him inappropriately, and declined requests for an interview. Bill Coleman, the CEO of the Roanoke Island Historical Association — which produces The Lost Colony — told BuzzFeed News in an emailed statement that he started his position in 2012, and as such is “unaware of any of the accusations made by Mr. Martin.” He also noted that in Long’s current contract with The Lost Colony as production designer, Long now visits the theater “about 5–7 days” to work with “the director and other artistic staff.”
Martin’s account was corroborated by Martin’s parents and a longtime friend, who confirmed to BuzzFeed News that Martin shared his story with them that summer. Embedded in his story are the consequences of the hazy personal boundaries in the world of theater that still persist today, even as the #MeToo movement reshapes the conversation. The effects of crossing those boundaries can of course damage a safe and healthy workplace, but they can also reverberate for years, even decades, later. For Martin, it wasn’t that Long killed his career in theater. He didn’t need to. He’d already killed Martin’s love for it.
During his first summer working on The Lost Colony in 1995, the longest time Martin thinks he spent with Long was for a fitting for the loincloth Martin wore to play one of the Native Americans in the show. Martin isn’t even sure if Long was all that aware of him. But Martin certainly had plenty of time to observe Long from afar, and how he would upbraid those working directly with him, sometimes vehemently.
“I thought he was a scary man,” said Martin. “I couldn’t figure out how somebody who treated people so poorly — who would berate their staff in front of everyone — I couldn’t figure out how that person got two Tony Awards.”
“I thought he was a scary man.”
This wasn’t an uncommon reaction. A friend of Martin’s who was present that summer, and said Martin confided in them about Long’s inappropriate behavior, told BuzzFeed News they found the verbally contentious atmosphere Long engendered to be “rather abusive.” Another participant during the 1996 season said that when he first arrived, veterans of the show warned him about Long. “People said he was temperamental, he was rude, he was bossy, he was mean,” said this participant, adding that “you were not to question [Long’s] authority” and that “if you didn’t do what he wanted, he could wreck your career.” And a performer who worked multiple seasons on The Lost Colony put it more bluntly: If he was ever contradicted, Long could be “an evil troll.” (All three sources requested anonymity to protect their professional reputations.)
Still, Long was a phenomenal designer, meticulous with the kind of ornate details and painstaking craft that elevated The Lost Colony from a summer stock show to a crown jewel of independent theater in the South, leading it to win a special Tony Honor for Excellence in 2013. Those working on the show faced a troubling, all-too-common bargain: If weathering Long’s volatile temper and harsh temperament for a few weeks every summer was the price of his brilliance, then so be it.
Martin’s appreciation of this bargain is why, when he landed the props job for the following season in 1996, he thought he understood what working with Long would be like — even after people pulled him aside to remind him that Long could be “difficult.”
“I was like, ‘I know, I know, I’ve got this. Don’t worry,'” he said.
What Martin wasn’t prepared for, however, was how sexually forward Long would be, practically from the start. Twenty-two years later, Martin cannot recall precisely when Long made his first advance that summer — but that’s also due to the carefully incremental nature of how those advances occurred, he said.
“It’s: hand on the shoulder, hand on the shoulder slips,” Martin said, holding his hand in the air on an imaginary person’s shoulder, then sliding it onto their upper back. “Then it’s: hand on the shoulder slips and stays. Then it’s: hand on the shoulder slips and stays and goes to the small of the back. Now touching the very little part of my underwear band. Now there’s a finger hooked in there. Now I’m moving the hand.”
Martin swept his hand in the air, as if carefully nudging someone else away. “Maybe that happens on Tuesday, and then on Wednesday, the finger goes a little deeper,” he continued. “And now I move the hand, or maybe I start moving away, and he changes tactics. Maybe it’s a smack on the ass as I’m running by trying to do something else.”
“It was always paired with … ‘You really must come for dinner.’ It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, if you feel like it.’ It was, ‘You must.’”
Martin said these kinds of encounters with Long would often happen in relative privacy, tucked away in one of the many cramped spaces on The Lost Colony. But not always. “[He had] an ability to kind of creep up behind you, slide his hand down your pants, and then light his face up while he’s pointing at something good that you did and making everyone look at that, and then squeeze and dig around in there,” he said. “Grabbing your ass and digging in your crack, and it seems like he’s fishing for your butthole. And he’s smiling and he’s pointing at work that you did, and your seven or eight assistants that you have assigned for that day are oohing and aahing. Literally his left hand doesn’t know what his right hand is doing.”
Throughout the preproduction period, Martin estimated that Long inappropriately touched him about 10 times. He felt trapped by the enormous authority he perceived Long to have not just over him professionally, but over The Lost Colony as a whole. “At one point, [Long] argued with a piece of the direction that the director was giving an actor, and the director let him have his way with how the actor was presenting a line,” Martin said. “I’ve never seen that happen, before or since.” The director that year, Fred Chappell, did not respond to multiple requests to comment for this story, and Long, through a lawyer, denied he had the power to overrule the director.
For Martin, the overtures were never just physical, either. “It was trying to cop a feel, and it was always paired with, ‘You’ve gotta come to the hotel for dinner.'” Martin said. “And it was that phraseology: ‘You really must come for dinner.’ It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, if you feel like it.’ It was, ‘You must.'” Long’s attorney said that Long “would invite groups of the Lost Colony cast and crew to dinner,” but that “Mr. Martin’s suggestion of an improper motive behind these group interactions is simply fabricated.”
Martin never did attend a dinner with Long.
At some point during rehearsal, Martin noticed that Long had started treating him differently. Long would scold him for missing deadlines in front of his crew. He would reprimand Martin for talking too much, and then snidely add that he liked his work better the day before, when Martin had his shirt off. During one particularly contentious argument over a basket of fake ears of corn, Martin recalled Long snatching a clump of the offending plastic props and throwing it at him in frustration. One person who worked on The Lost Colony during the 1996 season confirmed witnessing Long reprimanding others on the show, and Martin specifically. Two other people who have worked with Long on The Lost Colony said that while they did not have a memory of these specific incidents, they believed Long was capable of this kind of behavior.
Long’s attorney said, “Though Mr. Long may be known as somewhat of a taskmaster, and while missing deadlines and talking too much does sound like extremely annoying and problematic behavior which would actually justify a reprimand, Mr. Long would have left the scolding to the Technical Director and would not have scolded Mr. Martin in front of everyone, and certainly not for the purpose of any retaliation as alleged. The allegation that Mr. Long threw props at anyone, much less Mr. Martin, is preposterous.”
I asked Martin to put himself as much as he could back in his 21-year-old head, and explain what he thought Long wanted from him. He took a long time to answer.
“Can we say what I hoped he wanted?” he said. “I thought maybe he thought I was smart and realized that I was a good storyteller and a talented actor and really good at production design and set painting and props painting. I thought maybe he was taking a shine to me and was going to mentor me in New York. And I thought maybe…”
He trailed off, his voice catching. “I don’t know… Maybe, maybe, maybe there’s more to life than just the gross animal instincts. That you see possibility of brilliance and you can foster that.”
Martin would catch moments with Long where that possibility seemed within reach, but they were brutally short-lived. He recalled a day when Long visited him at the props shed to tell him the show’s director was en route to take a look at a series of wooden toys that Martin and his team had created — gifts the Native children would’ve given to the colonists’ children.
“He took the opportunity to praise me quietly, tell me how I’d gotten the contrast just right, and how I didn’t use the high-reflective paint, I used the flat paint, which would pick up the light differently and make it seem like the past,” Martin said. “I was swelling up with pride, and the hand came down the waistband again, into my buttcrack.” He took a deep breath. “I just turned in that moment, and I looked at him. I don’t think I even said anything. In my mind, I decided, If I survive this, I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to have joy in theater again. I begged him in 10,000 different ways to take me seriously — if not as an artist, at least as a craftsman; or not as a craftsman, at least as an employee.”
It’s a widespread but still under-discussed part of the #MeToo movement, how this kind of harassment can deeply warp a person’s sense of their own value, and inject a persistent, nagging suspicion about why anyone with authority would give them attention and praise. And yet it was hard not to learn some valuable professional lessons from someone as accomplished and knowledgeable as Long. He would hold optional master classes about the craft of theater and buy pizza for everyone after a long day. It was confusing and wearying for Martin, trying to untangle these complicated and contradictory feelings while also putting together a massive theatrical production in the summer heat on a shoestring budget. And it didn’t help that while Martin recalled some people on The Lost Colony telling him they “felt bad” for what he was going through, he found that others were much less sympathetic.
“There was a couple of times that I complained at parties,” he said. “People were like, ‘Oh, the handsome young guy is having a rough time with the older gentleman who thinks he’s cute. Oh no! Let me get my violin.'”
“‘That’s how gay people were. There wasn’t a thing called sexual harassment. That was for women.’”
Martin did find more compassion from a friend he confided in through this period, who better grasped the deeply dispiriting understanding Martin was coming to. “It was that first confrontation with the reality that in order to make it in a career, you would have to have your boundaries crossed, or tolerate abuse, or sleep with someone,” the friend said. Still, the specific nature of Martin’s experience also left his friend unsure about where to place it: “I wondered, Is this the world of the theater? [Or] is this a world of gay men?“
It’s a question Martin also had to confront one night when he tried talking with a gay man who was working on the show that season about what was happening with Long. When Martin used the words “sexual harassment,” the man shut him down.
“He was like, ‘We don’t have that, Michael, we don’t have that,'” Martin said. It’s an attitude he still encounters today when he shares what happened to him that summer: “‘Well, Michael, that was just the time. It was how we did things then. That’s how gay people were. There wasn’t a thing called sexual harassment. That was for women.'”
Martin found this mentality difficult to shake. He was out in high school, and theater had been a sanctuary, a place where he could be as gay as he wanted. But now his sexuality felt like a liability, like it made him open for abuse and left him wondering if older gay men could be genuinely interested in him for other reasons. “The damage that keeps following me is when an older man approaches me and wants something, and I smell that he’s LGBTQ, I immediately assume he wants to have sex with me,” he said. “I have to see danger around every corner now, and it fucking sucks.”
Back in 1996, the final straw for Martin came the day the programs for the show were released. He vividly remembered being told at the outset of the show that his title would be “property master,” but when he saw the printed programs, he discovered that his job title was “props assistant.” After all his hard work, after stomaching Long’s unwanted groping and suffering through his temper, he couldn’t even walk away with the credit he felt he’d more than earned. Furious, Martin found Long alone in the costume shop and confronted him.
“I told him to keep his hands off me, or I’d own the place,” said Martin — by which he meant he’d sue The Lost Colony for sexual harassment. Martin explained that while he certainly appreciated the opportunity to work with Long and oversee a vital part of the show, the job of keeping track of around 500 props each night was pressure enough without having to contend with Long constantly pushing well past his boundaries.
Long remained pretty much silent throughout, until someone else entered the room. “I said everything I wanted to say, and he was like” — Martin took on an annoyed tone — “‘All right. All I heard is that you’re stressed out and you have work you’re not doing.’ That was the validation I got: Get back to work.” Long’s attorney did not specifically respond to a request for comment about this interaction, but did stress that Long never promoted Martin to property master, and noted that “the [production] designer does not interfere with those selections or hires.”
Instead, Martin said he went to see the production stage manager on The Lost Colony, explained everything that was going on with Long, and requested to file a formal complaint. (Martin’s friend told BuzzFeed News that Martin had confided the nature of this conversation with them at the time.) He said he was greeted with sympathy and understanding, and told that his pain was seen and his story was believed. With that support, however, came a warning: Long was a powerful man, and if Martin did file a complaint, there was no way to control how others — including Long — would respond.
It was at once realistic and chilling advice, and Martin chose to heed it. “The times were different,” he said. “She did exactly what she could at that time … and I respect her for that.”
In a letter to BuzzFeed News, Long’s attorney said, “We have spoken with the Production Stage Manager at the Lost Colony from the years cited and she has no recollection or record of any complaints against Mr. Long.” While the production stage manager for this season did not respond to multiple requests from BuzzFeed News for an interview, a person close to the production stage manager told BuzzFeed News that she has not been contacted by anyone associated with Long or The Lost Colony with regard to this story.
There were other discrepancies in Long’s representations to BuzzFeed News concerning this story, as well. On July 25, Long’s attorney told BuzzFeed News that “the National Park Service also has complete daily records from the year 1996 at the Lost Colony, and we have requested copies of those records to confirm the absence of any complaint ever made against Mr. Long” and that “the Lost Colony keeps productions records from each day in the theater and is pulling those records to confirm the absence for any such claim.” Two days later, Long’s attorney said they had successfully obtained “detailed payroll records” from the “National Park Service/Lost Colony office” that proved Martin had not received a promotion to property master.
But the current CEO of The Lost Colony and two officials for the National Park Service told BuzzFeed News that they have no knowledge of any request for documents from the 1995 and 1996 seasons from Long or his attorney. According to the public information officer and the business manager for the Park Service for the Outer Banks, they would not keep payroll records for The Lost Colony participants since they are not employed by the Park Service.
When informed of these discrepancies, Long’s attorney said on Aug. 6, “We have been working with the people responsible for compiling the documentation when it was generated at the time, and who also maintain those records now.” On Aug. 7, the attorney shared a copy of a payroll document from 1996 for Martin, in which it appears that Martin did receive a raise from his 1995 wages; there is no notation as to Martin’s job title. To date, it is the only documentation — beyond a copy of a page from the 1996 program — Long’s representatives have sent BuzzFeed News.
Soon after Martin’s confrontation with Long, The Lost Colony opened, Long flew back to New York, and Martin settled into the rhythm of the production. But the damage had been done. When his parents came to visit him and see the show, they could already tell that something was different about their son. He had told them excitedly about his new props job at the outset of rehearsal, but as his father, John Martin, told BuzzFeed News, “It seemed like at some point the shine went off the apple.”
Martin told his parents about Long’s abusive behavior, the inappropriate touching, and the person who had believed his story and warned him about the likely consequences of filing a formal complaint. “She had made a comment to him that she would gladly make his complaint and take it up the ladder, but his career on Broadway might end right there,” said John.
It was, of course, upsetting that Long had mistreated their son. “I said, ‘Where is this guy?'” John Martin said of Long. “‘I want to talk to him nose-to-nose.’ I probably would have beat the crap out of him, and you can put that on the record, I don’t care. I’ll give him my address. He can come and visit me.”
“I probably would have beat the crap out of him, and you can put that on the record, I don’t care.”
What was more distressing, however, is what happened after the summer ended, and Martin returned to FSU. An academic achiever his whole life, Martin stopped going to classes. He became despondent and depressed. And he left FSU without completing his senior year.
“This was a kid with endless energy,” said John Martin. “He was the captain of the swim team. He was the class president. He was not only in the school’s plays, he was the star in the community theater.”
“He had a portfolio [for acting] when he was 5!” said his mother, Donna Martin. “He used to beg me to take him on commercial auditions. This was a passion. … It was really disappointing to see him lose his spark.”
Long returned to The Lost Colony one more time that summer to check up on the production, and he and Martin had another confrontation, this time about a one-man musical revue Martin had mounted during his spare time that featured a song called “The Casting Couch” — a not-exactly-veiled reference to his experiences with Long.
“I said something like, ‘You know what, I gave up a summer onstage, and I did it because you are brilliant and because everybody says you’re this brilliant guy,'” Martin said. “‘And as soon as you realized you weren’t getting what you wanted out of me, you stopped mentoring me, you stopped paying any attention to me, and you started just being a dick.'”
Long’s response surprised Martin. “He was like, ‘Writers are the true artists of the theater,'” Martin said.
It’s something that has stayed with Martin to this day. “Because processing this thing has been super complicated, and has taken my entire life, I must find some sort of good in the bad things that happen to me,” he said. “It clicked with me right then. He’s right. Writers are the true artists, and not only are they the true artists, they get to decide what history is — they get to decide the stories.” Long’s attorney said that while Long has said “Writers are the true artists of the theater” many times, Long denied ever saying it directly to Martin.
Martin moved to New York and fell into the improv and stand-up comedy scene, where he could write his own material and control his own story. In 2009, he started writing a blog, which he maintains to this day, that earned him a modest but noticeable bloom of celebrity when he started posting photos of himself baking pies while wearing an apron — and nothing else. Even Long caught wind of it.
“I must find some sort of good in the bad things that happen to me.”
“He approached me in a Barnes & Noble, and was like, ‘Look at this. Our young writer’s finally blossomed. And all you had to do was take your pants off.'” Martin rolled his eyes. “I was like, ‘Well, as you know, William, I am in control of my body, and I control who gets to see it, and when, and how.’ … He said something about a porn star that is a concert pianist as well. And that was it. He just, like, wandered off.” Long’s lawyer said these claims were “accurate, though misconstrued.” The lawyer conveyed that Long’s recollection is receiving an invitation to an event 10 years ago, and he attended to “support all of his Lost Colony alumni.” At that event, he said, “Mr. Martin did draw attention to his own attempts to make a successful career by appearing naked on his blog (as he still does), and Mr. Long did comment on that fact, drawing comparisons to the Naked Chef. Such a comparison was made, in jest, to an adult.”
Today, Martin lives in Los Angeles and has cobbled together a tapestry of disparate employment — from tending bar to IT consulting to social work with young kids — when he’s not working on his own creative endeavors. But what happened to him on The Lost Colony still lingers.
“If it bothers me so much that somebody 20 years ago took advantage of his position and I’m losing sleep, that is still unfair,” he said. “That is still them having power over me, and I refuse it.” Emboldened by the #MeToo movement, Martin decided to talk publicly about his experience on The Lost Colony for the first time. He posted on Facebook about his experience with Long in May, and then ultimately connected with BuzzFeed News. “I thought to myself, Good lord, can we actually speak truth to power? Because if we can, I’ve got a lot of truth, and there’s a lot of power I resent.”
He thinks about the profusion of enthusiastic young people who funnel through The Lost Colony — and Long’s purview — every summer, including this one. He thinks about how what they do and how they’re treated there will shape how they see themselves and the world. And he thinks about how his experience there led him to cut short a life in the theater before he’d even really started it.
“I’m very careful with what I say to young people because I don’t want to do what he did to them,” Martin said. “I don’t want the world for them that was the world I had. I want better. I want better for us.” •
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This story contains SPOILERS for Mission: Impossible — Fallout.
Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible — Fallout.
In Mission: Impossible — Fallout, Tom Cruise jumps out of a plane at 25,000 feet, for real. He speeds through the streets of Paris on a motorcycle without a helmet, for real. He leaps across the rooftops of buildings in central London, for real. And he dangles off of the bottom a flying helicopter before boarding that helicopter and putting it into a tight spiral turn in the middle of a steep gorge, for real.
At some point while watching Tom Cruise do these things in this movie, you might find yourself thinking, Is there any stunt in a movie that Tom Cruise can’t do?
According to Fallout‘s writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, “The short answer is no.”
McQuarrie has worked with Cruise in some capacity on nine films, including directing the star in Fallout, 2015’s Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, and 2012’s Jack Reacher, as well as doing an uncredited rewrite of 2011’s Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol. In that time, McQuarrie has come to regard Cruise as “the hardest working, the most dedicated, the most experienced, and the most professional” star in Hollywood, especially when it comes to participating in physical, practical stunts.
Those stunts, McQuarrie said, are the franchise’s “brand.”
Directing Cruise in a Mission: Impossible movie also means having to watch one of the most famous movie stars in the world actively and repeatedly risk his life just to get a great shot. “This is what differentiates Mission: Impossible from Bond and Bourne,” McQuarrie said. “It’s a little bit of a double-edged sword and maybe a little bit of a pair of golden handcuffs.”
And there is arguably no one else in the world other than Cruise who would be able to pull it all off. “I would imagine that if an actor of lesser stature than Tom said, ‘I want to do this,’ it would probably be a lot easier for the studio to say no,” said McQuarrie. “This is his job, and he does this job 24/7. Tom is a moviemaking machine. … It’s very difficult to argue with his record.”
As McQuarrie explained, making a Mission: Impossible movie with Cruise presents a unique set of benefits — and challenges.
Cruise won’t do anything he can’t do safely — but his threshold for safety is extraordinarily high.
David James / Paramount Pictures
Director Christopher McQuarrie (reflected in window) and Cruise on the set of Mission: Impossible — Fallout.
As has been the case for practically the entire Mission: Impossible franchise, the writing process for Fallout was driven by the stunts themselves, with McQuarrie and Cruise sitting down and deciding what they most wanted to see Cruise’s alter ego Ethan Hunt do onscreen, and then building a story around that. Despite all appearances, McQuarrie insists that Cruise’s decision making about what stunts to attempt is governed first and foremost by safety. “I also know that Tom is not going to do anything stupid,” he said. “That doesn’t mean things can’t go wrong, but it also means Tom is not pushing himself beyond his abilities foolishly.”
Still, while it’s probably a little absurd to try to pinpoint which of Cruise’s stunts in Fallout was the most life-threatening, filming Cruise fly a helicopter by himself through several highly unorthodox maneuvers, like a steep corkscrew dive, is at least among the more treacherous stunts ever attempted on film.
“The helicopter sequence was extremely daunting and extremely taxing mentally and physically,” said McQuarrie. “But I also knew that if we were not feeling that [anxiety], we were probably not anywhere close to getting something that was worthwhile [for the film]. So I have to look at Tom and say, ‘Can you do this?’ And Tom will say, ‘Yeah, absolutely.'”
It isn’t quite that simple. Cruise trained intensely for months to learn how to pilot the Airbus helicopter well enough to navigate it through the stunts they wanted for the film, and he had to get the company’s blessing before they would allow him to shoot the sequence. “Airbus did not want Tom Cruise dying in one of their helicopters,” said McQuarrie. “That’s not really good advertising. They took a lot of convincing. When I knew Airbus was comfortable with Tom flying that helicopter, that made me a lot more comfortable.”
What matters most, however, is that we need to see Cruise doing it.
Despite all the concern about safety, it often isn’t the biggest factor behind the decision for Cruise to not perform a stunt. Instead, it’s whether performing that stunt will, you know, look good on screen.
The most common pitch McQuarrie said he fields for Mission: Impossible movies is putting Cruise in a “squirrel suit” — i.e., wingsuits used for BASE jumping down steep mountainsides. But he rejects it every time. “The only time those squirrel suits are compelling is when the camera is on the ground and the guy in the squirrel suit is going by at 100 miles, 200 miles an hour, or you’re behind him flying through ravines and stuff like that,” said McQuarrie. “So at no point can you ever actually identify the person doing it. … [If] you can’t see his face, then why are we doing it?”
Similarly, on Fallout, McQuarrie ended up nixing a stunt during the sequence in which Hunt is chasing after the CIA agent played by Henry Cavill, and Cruise was supposed to jump through a glass window, bounce off the roof of a train, and tackle Cavill to the ground.
Cruise, McQuarrie said, was totally fine with executing the stunt. But the director didn’t think it offered much opportunity to capture the star’s face, and it would require a lot of painstaking, time-consuming technical planning to pull off. So they didn’t do it. “We can do it, but why bother?” said McQuarrie. “It was never about Tom going, ‘I won’t do it,’ or me saying, ‘It’s too dangerous.’ We just looked at it and we were like, ‘It’s kind of a drag.'”
In general, though, it’s best to let Cruise do — or, at least, try to do — want he wants.
“You know, Tom, he’s got lots of ideas,” McQuarrie said with a chuckle. “I have learned to simply indulge every one whether I get it or not, because one of two things will happen: I will either come to understand the idea, or Tom will come to the conclusion that, ‘You know what, this doesn’t work,’ and he’ll just bail on it. He will not drive the point home just because it was his idea.”
One example: The first trailer for Fallout ends with a hair-raising shot of Cruise inside the helicopter as it races headlong toward a truck barreling down a highway. But after a test screening, it ended up getting cut from the finished film.
“No one was citing that [shot] particularly, they were just citing that the helicopter chase felt long,” McQuarrie said. It was ultimately a digression from the main thrust of the scene, but McQuarrie estimated that the entire beat with the truck took up only 20 seconds of screentime. Cruise, nonetheless, advocated cutting it.
“I found myself going, you know, ‘Hey, man, look, we can change the music and we can re-edit it. We’re not done with this,'” said McQuarrie. “And he’s like, ‘Look at the scores, man. Just take it out.'”
Cruise won’t let a little thing like a broken ankle get in the way.
Ironically, Cruise did injure himself making Fallout, rather famously, while attempting a relatively simple leap between buildings in London. Even though he’d broken his ankle, Cruise completed the shot; he knew there wouldn’t be a second take.
“I went to see him minutes after it happened, and [Tom] was already there with his foot up, and he had ice on it,” McQuarrie said. “He said, ‘Did we get the shot?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, of course we got it. It looked great.’ And he goes, ‘Good, because we’re not coming back here.'”
It was the first day of shooting that particular sequence, so McQuarrie floated the notion of jettisoning it entirely and writing something different that wouldn’t be quite so demanding of his star. Cruise, however, wouldn’t hear of it.
“He said, ‘No, we’re coming back and we’re going to finish this thing. I didn’t break my ankle for nothing,'” McQuarrie recalled.
Cruise is willing to let his heroes look unheroic.
Cruise’s injury — and two-month recovery period — did provide McQuarrie with the opportunity to fix a dire issue with his film’s second act. Namely, he didn’t quite know how to end it.
“We were working towards another scene that was struggling to find its place in the movie, and I would have been shooting that scene days later,” he said. “Suddenly, I wasn’t. … We knew that the foot chase was part of the movie, and what we didn’t know is most of what happened in London.”
So McQuarrie edited together what he’d already shot, jettisoned the old scene, and refashioned his script to include a sequence involving the head of Hunt’s agency (played by Alec Baldwin) confronting Hunt and his team. He declined to reveal what the original scene entailed because he may want to use it in a different film. But he hinted that it painted Cruise’s heroic Hunt in a much grayer light — and Cruise was more than fine with it. He even pitched a “much darker” idea back to McQuarrie for the scene.
“When did he, I realized, Wow, Tom is more open to me messing with this character than I was really aware of,” McQuarrie said. “I sincerely hope that this scene or something like it finds its way back into the [franchise]. When it does, I will tell you.”
It’s really hard to top what you’ve done in a Mission: Impossible movie, even if it’s doing another Mission: Impossible movie.
Photo Credit: Chiabella James
McQuarrie and Cruise on the set of Mission: Impossible — Fallout.
Despite his tease, McQuarrie demurs when asked if he’ll direct another Mission: Impossible movie. “There has certainly been discussion” is about all he’ll admit.
Part of McQuarrie’s hesitation stems from a moment when he was shooting 2015’s Rogue Nation, which included a gonzo stunt involving Cruise hanging from the side of a massive A400 airplane as it took off into the air. “I turned to [cinematographer] Robert Elswit and said, ‘I feel really bad for the next guy, because I don’t know what’s left.’ And, of course, the joke was on me, because I ended up being the next guy.”
After making Fallout, McQuarrie once more felt unsure of what he could possibly do to top what he’s done before. “A lot of smoke would have to clear before I could even entertain that idea.”
That said, McQuarrie is certain that he’d like to work with Cruise again. “He’s not there to make a Tom Cruise movie. He’s there to make your film,” he said. “The same way that I will support whatever idea he presents to me whether I believe in it or not, he backs me the same way, with the understanding that when it doesn’t work, I’m not going to fight reality. That’s at the core of why we work together as well as we do. What I always say is we’re involved in one long conversation about movies — that’s occasionally interrupted by production.”
Scotty Bowers (second from left in top row) with friends
You know you’re in for a tantalizing story when it begins, “I was sitting in Gore Vidal’s living room.”
That’s how filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer began explaining what led him to make Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, his feature documentary about Scotty Bowers, the now-95-year-old who has claimed to have set up hundreds — if not thousands — of hush-hush same-sex sexual liaisons for some of the biggest names in Hollywood’s golden age, including Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Cole Porter, and Rock Hudson. The film alternates between shadowing Bowers during the launch of his 2012 tell-all memoir Full Service and chronicling his one-of-a-kind journey from some of the harshest battlefields of World War II to the Los Angeles gas station that he single-handedly transformed into a clandestine brothel for Hollywood’s burgeoning tribe of closeted gay and bisexual professionals.
“A lot of people in Los Angeles in that period who wanted to have sex lives that were authentic were simply unable to have them without someone they could trust to help facilitate that aspect of their sexuality,” said Tyrnauer. “It turns out that Scotty was a key person in the town for that.”
Michael Loccisano / Getty Images
Bowers had spent decades as one of the entertainment industry’s best-kept secrets — before the release of his memoir. But that didn’t keep Tyrnauer — a journalist for Vanity Fair who also made the 2008 documentary Valentino: The Last Emperor — from catching whispers about him.
It all started with a profile Tyrnauer wrote on the closeted gay TV star and producer Merv Griffin. Rather than mention Bowers by name, Tyrnauer said Griffin told him, “‘There’s a gas station where you used to go to get in trouble’ — which is exactly what someone of that era would’ve said.” Tyrnauer continued to hear about this enigmatic gas station on Hollywood Boulevard from others, and he tucked it away in his brain as a good story to pursue someday.
Meanwhile, he had started a long and rewarding professional relationship with Vidal, the famed literary iconoclast whose 1948 novel The City and the Pillar was a landmark depiction of a gay man’s coming of age — and included lengthy passages about the lives of gay men in Hollywood in the 1940s.
Which brings us back to the fateful day Tyrnauer was sitting in Vidal’s living room. “Vidal said, apropos of nothing, ‘I want you to find Scotty for me,'” Tyrnauer recalled. “And I was like, ‘Who’s Scotty?’ He said, ‘Scotty was my pimp! He had a gas station.'” A lightbulb went off. Tyrnauer pushed further, learning that not only was this “Scotty” the man behind the famed gas station Tyrnauer had heard so much about, but he was still alive, living in the Laurel Canyon neighborhood of LA. Vidal had simply misplaced Bowers’ number.
Tyrnauer found it, and the next time he visited Vidal, Bowers was there, talking with Vidal about the manuscript that would become his memoir.
“[He was] much more spry and genial and magical than I ever could have expected,” Tyrnauer said.
Right then, Tyrnauer asked Bowers if he would be interested in allowing Tyrnauer to follow him for a documentary.
The result, which opens in limited release today, is a fascinating and, at times, distressing cinematic portrait of the intersection of sex and Hollywood, and how even our concept of what makes up “Hollywood” is terribly skewed. Here’s everything you need to know about it.
Hulton Archive / Getty Images
Cary Grant and Randolph Scott at their home on the Santa Monica seafront.
Bowers’ memoir rocketed to fame, and infamy, largely due to the enormous stars he posthumously outed, and Tyrnauer knew he had to include them in his film. “There were certain names that are just immortal,” he said. “Obviously: Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, and Cary Grant.” Bowers contends that Hepburn and Tracy were both gay, and their carefully curated public relationship was just that — a show designed to hide their same-sex affairs. And he also confirmed the long-standing rumor that Grant’s roommate, fellow actor Randolph Scott, was really his live-in lover hiding in plain sight.
The film also takes time tracing how Bowers ingratiated himself with some of the biggest gay power brokers in Hollywood at the time, first among them the director George Cukor (My Fair Lady, The Philadelphia Story, A Star Is Born), in order to expand his reach as both the town’s preeminent male sex worker and its sexual procurer. And Scotty drops several other massive names — like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, aka Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson — and head-turning anecdotes along with them: Bowers claims the duke “sucked me off like a pro.”
“We just didn’t want to overwhelm people with too much gossip.”
Tyrnauer understood the innate human interest in these kinds of stories, but he also was acutely aware that audiences could only handle so much scandal. “To hear someone recounting sex-capades for too long on screen — it just loses its interest value after a while,” he said. “We just didn’t want to overwhelm people with too much gossip.”
He estimated that there are roughly 300 people that Bowers told him about who didn’t make the film. “Some of them [are] people no one have ever heard of, some of them are minor celebrities, some of them were major stars in their time who have been forgotten, and some of them were immortal names that didn’t even make it into the movie for various reasons,” he said. “It was really a process of elimination, based on what we had time for and whether the anecdote was something that was going to propel the story forward.”
Tyrnauer is especially sad actor Tyrone Power didn’t make the cut. In the 1930s and ’40s, Power was one of the country’s biggest movie stars, but he died at just 44 from a heart attack, and his specialty of swashbuckling adventure films like 1940’s The Mark of Zorro and 1950’s The Black Rose haven’t aged well. Tyrnauer was surprised to learn that Power was among Bowers’ clients, but when he tested the film with a section about the actor, he learned that, as he put it with a sigh, “nobody cares about Tyrone Power anymore.”
Katharine Hepburn in the 1935 movie Sylvia Scarlett; Liz Smith in 2004.
Bowers’ memoir Full Service caused a firestorm of criticism when it debuted. Some of it came from Bowers’ decision to out people after they’d died, but there was also a great deal of skepticism about whether Bowers’ most outrageous claims were even true at all. The book did not offer up much by way of corroboration, but Tyrnauer was determined to use his training as a journalist to back up Bowers’ claims.
Sometimes, he got lucky. While filming interviews in a New York City hotel, Tyrnauer had lunch with the late gossip maven Liz Smith, one of Hepburn’s closest friends. He’d considered asking Smith about Hepburn’s sexuality, but he wasn’t at all sure Smith would be interested in talking with him. “So I’m at lunch with her, and I said, ‘Hey, by the way, if I asked you on camera about Katharine Hepburn, would you talk about her being a lesbian?'” Tyrnauer said. “She’s like, ‘Oh sure, why not?’ And we went up and did it.” To Tyrnauer’s knowledge, it’s the only time Smith confirmed on camera that Hepburn had lesbian relationships.
Other times, Tyrnauer had to find his confirmation more circuitously. He came upon references to Bowers in arcane books about Hollywood from the 1970s, or contemporaneous accounts that would match specific details from a story Bowers had told him. In one instance, Tyrnauer recalled a conversation he had with the late gay actor Jack Larson, best known for playing Jimmy Olsen in the black-and-white 1950s Superman TV series. Tyrnauer had mentioned that one of his favorite films was the Bette Davis melodrama Now, Voyager, and Larson relayed to Tyrnauer that its director, Irving Rapper, had once picked him up while hitchhiking, taken him home, and jumped him. The next day, Tyrnauer saw Bowers and asked him if he knew Rapper. “And he said, ‘Oh my god, Irving Rapper? I haven’t heard that name for years. I used to trick him all the time. He used to have this thing where I had to pretend I was a hitchhiker,'” Tyrnauer said with a laugh.
Courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment
What makes Scotty the film especially fascinating is how much Bowers’ story confounds whatever bias one might have about the golden age of Hollywood. If you’d believed the heteronormative mythmaking that Hollywood’s biggest stars were paragons of clean living and straight sex, welp, it turns out Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy weren’t exactly made for each other. Conversely, if you thought that Hollywood was a cold, cynical town teeming with the kind of corrosive transactional sex that made quick-and-dirty work of the young and beautiful dreamers pouring into LA by the busload, it turns out that isn’t quite right, either.
“Scotty himself clearly doesn’t have any problem with all the sexual experiences he’s had,” Tyrnauer said. “But it wasn’t just Scotty.” Over the course of making the film, Tyrnauer said Bowers connected him with five other men whom Bowers had helped find work getting paid for sex (two of which ended up in the finished film). Many of those men were fellow WWII veterans like Bowers who had landed in LA after the war and needed the cash, but if they bore any resentment about their past sex work, Tyrnauer never saw it.
“It was clear that this was a golden era for them,” Tyrnauer said. The conventional presumptions about sex work as a sinister, self-destructive profession just didn’t match with what Tyrnauer was seeing in the men who’d worked alongside Bowers. “No one had anything negative to say. They all had the most positive things to say about Scotty.”
He paused, as if deciding what to say next. “This is not the PC term to say, but these were the happy hookers,” he said while laughing. “It seemed to be very cool with everybody who I talked to. A lot of people are dead. I didn’t talk to everybody. But the survey sample that I saw, this seemed to be highly consensual. And no one seemed to have a problem, whether they were gay, straight, or otherwise, with what Scotty was asking.”
Courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment
Bowers in his WWII uniform.
Although Scotty focuses extensively on his prurient past, the film also spends a great deal of time following Bowers through his active present, much of which is spent with his wife, Lois, in their home. Or, well, part of their home. It turns out that Bowers is a pretty aggressive hoarder — it’s so bad that several rooms in his home are barely accessible at all.
“I hadn’t seen it until the day we shot there for the first time,” Tyrnauer said. “I had no idea he was a hoarder. No one had told me — certainly Scotty didn’t.” Bowers evinces no shame about the state of his home, let alone the multiple, jam-packed storage facilities he maintains throughout LA. In fact, shame doesn’t seem to be an emotion Bowers has any use for at all.
There was no more acute example of Bowers’ active disinterest in feeling shame about his life than the section of the film dealing with Bowers’ young childhood. Bowers says that before he hit puberty, his neighbor would perform sex acts on him, and that he would “trick” multiple priests in the area, all unbeknownst to anyone else in his family. Some of this was covered in Bowers’ memoir, but when he interviewed Bowers for his film, Tyrnauer was still not prepared for the full breadth of Bowers’ sexual experience before he’d turned 14.
“The extent to which he had such a busy ‘sex life’ as a child was shocking to me,” he said. “I had no idea. It was hard for me to conceive of it.”
In Scotty, you can hear Tyrnauer tell Bowers that many would see his experiences as abuse, but Bowers pushes back immediately and forcefully, asserting that he was in control of those experiences, and does not regard himself as anything close to a victim. “He sees it as part of his origin story as a sexual being: ‘Hell no, this is what I wanted. It was the way I wanted it,'” said Tyrnauer.
Between Bowers’ sexual experiences as a child, and his experience in some of the most horrific battles of WWII — he was at Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima — it would be tempting to armchair diagnose Bowers, to ascribe the many traumas he’s weathered to his ability as an adult to freely navigate the sexual boundaries so many others found so rigid. But Tyrnauer wanted to leave that kind of appraisal to his audience.
“When I sign up to make a movie about someone, I try not to be judgmental in that way. I need to express onscreen the nature of their character and their being, and this is a part of it,” he said. “I leave it to the audience to conclude how he has coped with all these traumas, and what it has led to in his life.”
Tyrnauer is clear that he still thinks Bowers’ experiences as a child make him “what we would today categorize as a survivor of sexual abuse.” But he also points out that it is far from the only trauma in Bowers’ life — there are several shattering personal losses, not to mention the devastating HIV/AIDS pandemic, which Bowers somehow escaped — and yet Bowers has endured and thrived well into his nineties. Most might expect someone who had lived through so much to look back on their life heavy with regret. Instead, Tyrnauer said with a chuckle, “He is one of the happiest people I’ve ever met in my life.”
Courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment
Scotty Bowers and Lois Bowers
One of the major factors that most excited Tyrnauer about Bowers’ story was how much of a window it offered on what it was like for LGBT people in the pre-Stonewall era. For most, it would have been impossible to authentically express their sexuality without Bowers providing a mechanism for it, when the mere whisper of queerness could kill your career, or worse.
“There were morals clauses in contracts, and the LAPD was operating a vice squad that was pernicious, and specifically targeting gay men for extortion,” said Tyrnauer. “I think it is fair to say in a world where men marry men and women marry women legally in this country, society has just shifted seismically. That’s one reason the movie was worth making. Millennials don’t know any of this. How could they? Unless they did deep interviews with their parents, who would have had to have been privy to this information. And most people don’t have gay parents.”
“Scotty cuts this diagonal swath through the entire culture of the town.”
For Tyrnauer, Scotty also gave him the chance to capture a different, if related, aspect of Hollywood, namely the vast swaths of people who aren’t the biggest, boldest stars. “There’s a whole roaring middle tier to lower tier of this town which makes it go. It’s everyone from craft services people to makeup artists, to day players, to background people, to people that move up from that, and become guest stars,” he said. “Those people are the real denizens of Hollywood. They’re the people who make the town turn. … And Scotty cuts this diagonal swath through the entire culture of the town.”
It’s there in the film’s depiction of Bowers’ lasting friendship with a shlock movie actor named Beach Dickerson. And it’s there in the many times Tyrnauer follows Bowers to Hollywood functions populated entirely by people in their seventies, eighties, and nineties — members of those middle to lower tiers of Hollywood whom the industry may have long forgotten, but who remain a crucial, if invisible, part of the city all the same.
Tyrnauer was especially proud of a sequence in the film when Bowers visited the Triangle Square Senior Apartments in LA, created specifically for LGBT seniors. “These people were all gay and lesbian citizens of this town — a lot of them worked in show business — and you don’t see those people,” he said. “I was so moved by that day.”
A reboot of the beloved and groundbreaking TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer is in the works, with original series creator Joss Whedon executive producing, BuzzFeed News has confirmed.
The original series ran from 1997 through 2003 on (now defunct networks) the WB and UPN. It starred Sarah Michelle Gellar as the titular heroine who battled vampires and demons by night and the horrors of high school (and later college and adulthood) by day.
Veteran TV writer-producer Monica Owusu-Breen has been set as the showrunner for the reboot, and will write the pilot script. Owusu-Breen co-created NBC’s Midnight, Texas, and has also written on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Fringe, Lost, Alias, and Charmed.
Kevin Winter / Getty Images, Frazer Harrison / Getty Images
The show’s setting will be contemporary, richly diverse, and build on the mythology of the original show, BuzzFeed News has learned.
To be clear, this Buffy reboot still has many hurdles to clear before becoming a reality: There’s no script, there’s no network or streaming service attached to distribute it, and there are no actors signed on to star in it.
But that didn’t stop people from totally freaking out at the news.
Some people were excited at the prospect of a second Buffy series.
They’re making a revamped BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. My old version of BUFFY will still exist and still be awesome and this new one could also exist and be awesome at the same time! See how I did that, Ghost bros?
Some objected to the possibility of the show abandoning the vast creative universe established by Buffy and its sister show, Angel.
“Hey here’s your favorite thing but you start COMPLETELY OVER and it’s all new characters and basically a completely different show” – why not keep it in the same universe, with a new slayer rather than a new Buffy? I’d love a show where we can get cameos from the Scoobies
Noted feminist Anita Sarkeesian felt that the original Buffy was a one-of-a-kind series, and no show with the same title could possibly equal it.
I’d be here for a show based in the same universe & lore, say for instance around Fray (the comic), but Buffy comes from a very specific moment in media history, especially feminist media history. I’m afraid no matter how talented the folks involved are, it wouldn’t live up to it
And then there were people who were pissed by the whole idea of remaking a beloved feminist genre show from the 1990s/2000s that used to air on the WB.
I already have to deal with this JOKE of a reboot for Charmed, now you want to mess with Buffy?! Literally my two favorite shows of all time and two of the most influential shows ever……just try to be creative for ONCE and make something new! https://t.co/pkZOIKFLT3
Disney fired James Gunn as director of the third installment of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise on Friday after conservative activists unearthed old tweets in which the filmmaker made jokes about pedophilia.
“The offensive attitudes and statements discovered on James’ Twitter feed are indefensible and inconsistent with our studio’s values, and we have severed our business relationship with him,” said Alan Horn, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, in an emailed statement.
Alt-right online figure Jack Posobiec was among those who shared screenshots of old tweets from Gunn, a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, in which he made unsavory jokes about children.
In a series of tweets posted late Thursday, Gunn apologized for his old “shocking jokes”:
Many people who have followed my career know when I started, I viewed myself as a provocateur, making movies and telling jokes that were outrageous and taboo. As I have discussed publicly many times, as I’ve developed as a person, so has my work and my humor. It’s not to say I’m better, but I am very, very different than I was a few years ago; today I try to root my work in love and connection and less in anger. My days saying something just because it’s shocking and trying to get a reaction are over. In the past, I have apologized for humor of mine that hurt people. I truly felt sorry and meant every word of my apologies. For the record, when I made these shocking jokes, I wasn’t living them out. I know this is a weird statement to make, and seems obvious, but, still, here I am, saying it. Anyway, that’s the completely honest truth: I used to make a lot of offensive jokes. I don’t anymore. I don’t blame my past self for this, but I like myself more and feel like a more full human being and creator today. Love you to you all.
Gunn served as director and writer of the first two Guardians films.
After Eugenio Derbez’s 2013 comedy Instructions Not Included became a surprise hit — and the highest-grossing Mexican film ever in the US — the actor-filmmaker suddenly found himself taking meetings all over Hollywood. At one of those meetings at MGM Studios, he was handed a list of remakes of earlier MGM movies for him to produce as a starring vehicle, and one title leapt out at him: Overboard.
“I was so excited, because I grew up watching this film,” Derbez told BuzzFeed News. He’s far from alone, either — the romantic comedy starring Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn wasn’t a box office sensation when it opened in 1987, but over the years, the film has become beloved comfort food for its fans.
“I was in love with Goldie Hawn,” said Derbez. “She was my movie star crush. I immediately said yes, and we started developing the script.”
But after Derbez and his producing partner Ben Odell hired the filmmaking team, including director Rob Greenberg and his writing partner Bob Fisher, they discovered that remaking Overboard for a modern audience presented some major challenges — and equally exciting opportunities.
The biggest hurdle: Rewatching the original movie makes it painfully clear that it’s the platonic ideal of a “problematic fave.” The plot hinges on Russell’s working-class single father who clashes with Hawn’s conceited millionaire on her yacht; after she subsequently falls overboard and is afflicted with total retrograde amnesia, he dupes her into believing she is really his wife so she can take care of his four unruly sons and keep up his dilapidated home. At one point in the film, Russell’s character gleefully sings about having his own slave, and while he never takes advantage of her physically, the fact that he could lingers uncomfortably.
As Derbez wryly put it, “Nowadays, it looks really rude to have a guy kidnapping a woman to make her work at home.”
To resolve that particularly fraught issue, the filmmakers chose to flip the genders of the two leads, making Derbez’s character, Leo, the haughty one-percenter afflicted with amnesia, and transforming Russell’s role into an exasperated single mother with three daughters and two jobs — played by the comedically gifted Anna Faris — who hoodwinks Leo into domestic servitude. To eliminate any hint of sexual coercion once Leo begins living with Kate’s family, the filmmakers also made Leo an enthusiastic bachelor who has no problem having sex with total strangers.
“He would be willing to sleep with [Kate] on day one,” said Greenberg. “He doesn’t care. So we kind of take abuse off the table.” (Ultimately, Kate puts the brakes on any sex with Leo, and they sleep in separate areas of the house.)
Updating Overboard’s tricky gender politics also ended up providing Derbez with a rare opportunity. Making his character extravagantly wealthy — in the film, he’s the son of the third richest man in the world — allowed the actor-producer to fulfill his ambition to help broaden the way Latinx characters are portrayed in mainstream Hollywood movies.
“I was fed up with always playing in Hollywood, you know, the narcos, the criminals, the gang member,” he said. “Or, best-case scenario, the gardener. The Latino audience, my core audience, were always telling me that they wanted to dignify the image of Latinos in Hollywood.”
The filmmakers didn’t just stop with Derbez’s character, either. The new Overboard is filled with a broad spectrum of Latinx characters, including middle-class business owners played by Eva Longoria and The Last Man on Earth’s Mel Rodriguez, as well as working-class short order cooks, and construction crew laborers.
“I think that’s America. If you walk into any restaurant or store, all the people working there, or also buying there, are from all over the world — Asians, Latinos, Afro-Americans,” said Derbez. “This is a land of immigrants.”
That effort also extended to the casting: Rodriguez is Cuban American, Longoria is Mexican American, and Josh Segarra, who plays an aspiring musician and one of the construction laborers working alongside Leo, is Puerto Rican. “We’re not saying, oh, the Mexican millionaire,” said Derbez. “It just happens that I’m Mexican. It just happens that the other guy is Puerto Rican or Cuban or whatever. That’s the way we see life in America.”
“It made [the movie] feel like it reflected the world that we live in, at least in Los Angeles,” said Fisher. “Otherwise there wouldn’t be any reason for doing the movie, just to redo a movie that people already love.”
The Overboard filmmakers also wanted to be sure their film honestly reflected the lives of the working-class Latinx people. In one standout scene, Leo, who can’t shake the feeling that his life should be much better, complains to his fellow workers that he feels like he’s “just a paycheck,” causing one to respond, “We all feel this way, man. Welcome to the club.”
For Derbez, the scene spoke to a common experience he has meeting Latinx waiters who he later sees valeting cars at a different restaurant. “I’m always asking them, ‘How do you do this? When do you see your family? When do you enjoy your kids and your house?'” said Derbez. “And they say, ‘You know, I’m here to give my family a better life, so I don’t have time for me. I’m just like a paycheck. I just have to get them money because I want them to succeed.’ They’re working hard to give their families a better life.”
All the changes the filmmakers made to update their film from the 1987 Overboard reflect how much audiences, and filmmakers, have evolved in their expectations that even a silly, high-concept rom-com should reflect our more socially conscious reality. And yet, the original film’s emphasis on the transformative love of and for your family is what so endeared it to Derbez 30 years ago — and ultimately why he felt drawn to remake it.
“He has a yacht, he has servants, he has women, he has every single thing in the world but love, real love,” Derbez said of his character. “So when he goes from having everything to nothing, the only thing that he has [is] the love of a real family. Our intention was to try to teach the characters that there are things that money can’t buy. The love from a real family is one of them.”
Adam B. Vary is a senior film reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Warning: The following story contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Avengers: Infinity War.
The screenwriters of Avengers: Infinity War always knew the ending to their movie would be emotional, but they didn’t quite grasp how emotional until they saw the actors performing it for the first time.
“As you’re writing these things, you have to be fairly calculating and cold,” Christopher Markus told BuzzFeed News. “You know, I don’t tear up every time I read it. But to see the characters fully rendered, and to see the actors’ faces processing that loss, it’s pretty profound.”
“That loss” consists of arguably the most brutal, devastating conclusion in a massively popular franchise movie ever. (And if the previous warnings weren’t already clear, the rest of this story contains MAJOR SPOILERS.) After collecting all six Infinity Stones, cosmic villain Thanos (Josh Brolin) snaps his fingers and causes half the population of the universe to disintegrate into ash, including over a dozen of Marvel Studios’ most celebrated superheroes, like Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), and almost all of the Guardians of the Galaxy. To say the ending has made people emotional is a bit like saying the movie made a lot of money on its opening weekend.
“It really seemed to be a gut punch to people in a way that I didn’t fully [realize],” said Markus.
But what do all these deaths mean? Are these characters all really dead, or will they somehow return in the untitled Avengers movie that was filmed alongside Infinity War and is due to open a year from now? To answer these questions and more, BuzzFeed News grilled Markus and his writing partner Stephen McFeely, and got some surprising answers.
They always knew Thanos would succeed — they just had to figure out when.
Infinity War and its sequel are based in part on the 1991 Infinity Gauntlet comic series by Jim Starlin. Thanos succeeds in his quest in that comic, and Markus and McFeely said that they and their main collaborators — directors Anthony and Joe Russo along with producer and Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige — never seriously entertained the idea that their films wouldn’t also include Thanos’s apocalyptic snap of his fingers.
“This is the hero’s journey for Thanos,” said McFeely. “By the end of the hero’s journey, our main character, our protagonist — at least, in this case — gets what he wants.” At first the writers weren’t quite sure when in the two films Thanos’s snap would come, until they ultimately realized that putting it at the climax of Infinity War would give that film its strongest ending.
“Even if the end is a tragedy, we wanted it to be definitive,” said Markus. “To say, ‘Oh my gosh, what’s he going to do?! He’s only got one [Infinity Stone] left! I wonder if he’ll get the other one!’ That just seemed like ‘Tune in next week’ jerking around.”
Deciding who was going to turn to dust was about setting up the story for Avengers 4.
If it seemed like many of the characters who died at the end of Infinity War also got the most screentime in Infinity War — and that several of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s biggest characters, like Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), got short shrift — that was by design. “We had so many characters in movie 1, and we knew it was a two-movie conversation,” said McFeely. “Some characters were better served in movie 2 after this event. We were making some choices based on some characters we knew were going to leave us at the end of the first movie, so they got highlighted in the first movie. And some who were going to be in the second movie more maybe got less attention or less screentime [in Infinity War] — I’m thinking of Cap and Natasha, specifically. It’s about the story we wanted to tell in movie 2, mostly.”
Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn and star Chris Pratt made a small but crucial change to the script.
In Infinity War, Gamora’s knowledge of the whereabouts of the Soul Stone — the only missing Infinity Stone — leads her to make Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) promise to kill her should Thanos, her father, ever capture her. In the original script, when Thanos does take Gamora, Star-Lord ultimately can’t bring himself to pull the trigger. But Gunn and Pratt both said he would.
“The more I think about it, the better it is that it got changed,” said McFeely. He pointed out that Thanos’s use of the Reality Stone to have Star-Lord’s gun fire bubbles instead allowed the screenwriters to include a callback to the moment later in the film. But more broadly, Star-Lord’s decision to kill the woman he loves tied in with Infinity War’s underlying theme that doing what you believe to be the right thing can come at a terrible personal cost.
“Thanos has that same choice later [to kill Gamora], and he chooses to do it and succeeds,” said McFeely. “Wanda has that same choice later [with Vision]. A lot of characters have really tough choices to make.”
Speaking of tough choices, Markus and McFeely didn’t know killing off T’Challa would be quite so painful for fans, but they have no regrets.
“First of all, we would do it all over again,” said McFeely about their shocking decision to turn Black Panther to dust. “But remember, when we’re writing [Infinity War], and even shooting, there is no Black Panther movie. We don’t know it’s going to be so good, so effective, so resonant. And we had to treat all these characters the same. People who leave us [in Infinity War] are the leads of their own franchises. And Black Panther’s no different.”
Killing characters as major as Black Panther and Spider-Man also helped drive home for audiences just how immense Thanos’s victory was. “We wanted that thing that happens at the end of that movie to have as much impact as possible,” said Markus. “If you’re very carefully getting rid of your supporting cast, then it does seem like you’re pulling your punch.”
They weren’t thinking about the next Black Panther, Spider-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy movies.
As McFeely acknowledged, anyone paying attention to the historic success of Marvel Studios’ entire slate of films knows that several of the characters who died at the end of Infinity War front their own lucrative movie franchises. Prior to the release of Infinity War, Feige talked explicitly about the next Spider-Man movie. Gunn announced in 2017 that he was writing and directingGuardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. And if there were no Black Panther sequel, the shareholders of Disney would likely revolt — not to mention the fans.
Because these characters are almost certainly returning for more movies down the line, audiences could come to regard the deaths in Infinity War cynically. But Markus and McFeely said they had to set aside that kind of thinking when writing Infinity War.
“We can’t make movies assuming you know how movies get made,” said McFeely. “We can just tell the best version of the story we can, and hopefully you are investing in that story while you’re in it, and you feel appropriate sadness or joy while you’re in it. We can’t account for having one step outside the movie theater while you’re watching it. We would be terrible storytellers if we did that.”
But don’t expect Avengers 4 to “fix” things — at least, not in the way you might anticipate.
Understandably, Markus and McFeely chose their words carefully when talking about Avengers 4. But listening to them talk about how Infinity War’s deaths — including the more, er, traditional deaths of Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Heimdall (Idris Elba), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and Vision (Paul Bettany) — will affect Avengers 4, it seems pretty clear characters won’t be resurrected good as new like they are in the comic, or at least without some great cost.
“[Avengers 4] doesn’t do what you think it does,” said Markus. “It is a different movie than you think it is.” Then he paused. “Also…[the deaths are] real. I just want to tell you it’s real, and the sooner you accept that, the sooner you will be able to move on to the next stage of grief.”
McFeely broke in. “Put it this way,” he said. “I think [Infinity War] is a fairly mature movie for a blockbuster. It’s got a lot of fun in it, obviously, but boy, it gets very mature. The second one is also mature. We’re going to own these choices, and hopefully surprise and delight you and get you invested. It’s by the same studio, the same filmmaking team. They were written at the same time, shot at the same time. They’re clearly connected, but they are definitely two different movies, one of which is dependent on what happened previous.”
“We broke your heart,” added Markus. “Now we’re going to blow your mind!”
The next two Marvel Studios movies — Ant-Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel — are key to understanding the events in Infinity War and Avengers 4.
The post-credits scene in Infinity War features a disintegrating Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) appearing to send an SOS to the as yet unseen Captain Marvel via a mysterious-looking pager — suggesting that the character, who will be played by Brie Larson, will perform a significant role in Avengers 4. According to Markus and McFeely, however, fans should also pay attention to what happens in the Captain Marvel movie opening in March 2019 — as well as in Ant-Man and the Wasp, opening in July this year, and starring Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly as the title characters.
“Put yourself in our positions two years ago,” said McFeely. “We’re looking at a blank wall, and it says Avengers 3, Ant-Man and [the] Wasp, Captain Marvel, Avengers 4. So there are four big shoeboxes, and we’re responsible for the bookends. As we’re going through deciding what we want to do, we have these two shoeboxes in the middle that you can either look at as burdens or opportunities.”
Other than “very small suggestions” from the Avengers team, McFeely emphasized that the filmmakers for Ant-Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel “got to make exactly the movies they wanted.” But those movies will still be tied to the events in Avengers 4 in some meaningful ways.
“My hope is the conversation you and I will have a year from now, you’ll have a sense of the choices we’ve made over the course of an entire year of Marvel movies,” said McFeely. “There’s a relationship between them all.”
And don’t forget about Hawkeye!
All of the original Avengers — Captain America, Black Widow, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) — survived Infinity War, which only calls further attention to the total absence of the sixth member of their original team: Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye.
Don’t worry, however. Hawkeye will return!
“We like Hawkeye,” said Markus. “We like Hawkeye so much we gave him a really good story.” For what that story is, and how it could affect the fate of the MCU, we’ll have to wait until Avengers 4 opens in 2019.
Adam B. Vary is a senior film reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.