‘Dallas Buyers Club’ Director Jean-Marc Vallée Dead at 58
Author: Trudy Ring
Jean-Marc Vallée, the director of LGBTQ-inclusive films such as Dallas Buyers Club and C.R.A.Z.Y. and first season of the LGBTQ-beloved TV series Big Little Lies, has died at age 58.
Vallée, a straight ally, was found dead Sunday at his cabin near Quebec City, The New York Times reports. The Montreal-born director’s body was discovered by friends who had come to visit him. No cause of death was reported.
C.R.A.Z.Y., released in 2005, was a coming-of-age story about a gay man from a large family in Quebec, dealing with homophobia in the 1960s and ’70s. It won 11 Genie Awards — a Canadian film award — and was commercially successful. It also “catapulted Vallée into a role as a straight spokesperson for gay rights,” notes The Islands’ Sounder, a publication based in Washington State.
That role continued with 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club, which was well-received and won three Oscars but was also criticized for some of its portrayals. It told the fact-based story of Ron Woodroof, an ostensibly straight man who, after contracting HIV in the 1980s, organized distribution of unapproved drugs to others with HIV. It depicted Woodroof overcoming homophobia and transphobia, and Matthew McConaughey won the Best Actor Oscar for portraying him.
Jared Leto won Best Supporting Actor for playing Rayon, a transgender woman with HIV who becomes Woodroof’s friend. Rayon was a fictional character, and the film was critiqued for not only casting a cisgender man as a trans woman but for having its primary trans character be a sex worker.
“Some people are displeased that Rayon, in particular, is just another trans sex worker role; another trans addict; another ‘mystical adviser/comic relief,’” Calpernia Addams, a trans actress and coach who advised Leto, wrote in an Advocate commentary. “And another role where the trans person is punished in the end. Those are indeed overrepresented portrayals, and there should be more balance — soon! But I have known people like Rayon. She is not a made-up grab bag of random hateful attributes. She’s a portrayal of an uncomfortable segment of the trans experience that a few TLGB folks would rather be erased rather than discussed.”
But Parker Marie Molloy wrote in another Advocate commentary, “There isn’t anything wrong with ‘the Rayons of the world.’ What is wrong is that transgender individuals — specifically transgender women — are almost always portrayed as this particular type of trans woman.”
Leto said trans young people inspired him as he played the role, but he also drew criticism for defending his right to play Rayon, noting that gay and lesbian actors portray straight characters. Molloy pointed out that trans actors have little opportunity to play anything but trans roles.
Longtime AIDS activist Peter Staley, a gay man who recently published the memoir Never Silent: ACT UP and My Life in Activism, recounts that there were other problems in the original script for Dallas Buyers Club. He advised Vallée and his screenwriters, Craig Borten and Melissa Wallack, on deleting misleading information about AIDS and its treatments. Staley has disputed that Woodroof was straight or homophobic, and acknowledged the problem of a cis man portraying Rayon, but he praised the film overall.
“Jean-Marc Vallée deserves all the credit,” Staley notes in a Vanity Fair excerpt from his book. “I put the man through hell and back, but he kept the promise he’d once emailed me: that in all his films, he tries to ‘capture humanity and reveal the beauty behind it.’”
Vallée went on to direct Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon as author Cheryl Strayed, who had written about her real-life solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Witherspoon was Oscar-nominated for the film.
Witherspoon was also part of Big Little Lies, a popular HBO series about a group of wealthy California women who are rivals in many ways but come together to defend one of their number against an abusive husband. “It’s safe to say that the series stands alone in dismantling the harmful trope that women don’t support each other,” Tracy E. Gilchrist wrote in The Advocate in 2017, at the end of the first season. In addition to Witherspoon, the cast included Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, Zoe Kravitz, and Alexander Skarsgård.
A 2018 series for HBO, Sharp Objects, starred Amy Adams as a reporter investigating the murders of two young girls in her small Missouri hometown. “It’s true that my last projects were featuring mainly female characters,” Vallée said in an HBO interview in 2018. “So am I the lucky guy? Maybe — maybe I am. I’m not afraid of intelligent, strong women. You got to create a space where they’re going to feel respected and comfortable.”
Vallée is survived by two sons and three siblings.
Original Article on The Advocate
Author: Trudy Ring