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As Flannery O’Connor in ‘Wildcat,’ Maya Hawke is the sharp literary chronicler of ‘White Hypocrisy’


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

It’s easy to imagine a contemporary viral video version of the moment that is trending on social media and sparking debates about privilege. But the scene is from O’Connor’s 1961 O. Henry award-winning short story, Everything that rises must convergeand it’s part of how the filmmakers reveal the Georgia-born author’s background in Jim Crow South and her evolution in terms of race.

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

The film, one of the titles at the festival seeking distribution, is a cross between O’Connor’s real-life biography as she built a literary career while ill with lupus and scenes from her stories, including The life you save can be yours, Parker’s back And Revelation. O’Connor, who won the National Book Award in 1972 and was put on a U.S. postage stamp in 2015, is credited with writing sharp, anti-racist parables and in-depth explorations of her Catholic faith. More recently, however, she has come under scrutiny for racist remarks she made in her personal writings, especially in her youth.

The revelation of her own history of racism makes O’Connor a complicated figure for a modern biopic, but that didn’t deter the filmmakers. “If you don’t look at it, it doesn’t magically get better,” says Ethan. “There’s a widespread mindset right now that we’re just not going to talk about things that are hurtful and angry. And then they just breed in a box. I began to see (O’Connor) as if you were studying this beautiful tree. It grew in Jim Crow South where she was fed and raised. We studied a tree that is beautiful, but it grew there. And she’s looked at it all, and she’s looked really hard at it, but she belongs.

The genesis of Wild cat came from Maya’s high school English assignments to read O’Connor (shout out to Mr. Rutter at St. Ann’s School in Brooklyn). The now 25-year-old actress, daughter of Ethan and Uma Thurman, found in O’Connor a kindred spirit and a window to big ideas. At the age of 15 she read O’Connor’s A prayer journalwritten while the author was a student at the University of Iowa in 1946 and 1947.Prayer Journal It had a young woman negotiating her desire to be great with the fear that she wouldn’t be,” says Maya. “And with her knowledge that the desire to be great got in the way of her ability to become herself.”

Maya loved a monologue A prayer journal as part of her audition for Julliard (she stepped in, before dropping out to play a role in a 2017 BBC production of Little women). In 2019, after starring in Netflix’s third season Stranger thingsMaya met with Joe Goodman, the copyright owner of O’Connor’s life and work, in hopes of making a fair choice. A prayer journal. It was then that Maya enlisted her father and his production partner and wife Ryan to help her make a movie, and Ethan saw the potential to tell a bigger story. “I saw a huge opportunity in what (Goodman) owned, which was that you could actually use Flannery’s letters and her stories and her own writing to do a portrait of her, to have her tell her own story,” says Ethan . He saw in some of O’Connor’s fictional southern female characters a version of her mother, Regina O’Connor, who is played by Linney in the film, and began writing the script with Shelby Gaines. “I started to see that thanks to Flannery’s creativity, we could do a portrait of these people using double casting,” says Ethan. “And that might be something we haven’t seen before.”

The film explores the many ways O’Connor was an outsider in her day in Georgia, as a Catholic in the Protestant South, as a person with a disability due to lupus, and as a northern-educated woman. “She was a weird peacock in her own existence,” says Linney. “So it makes sense that she would approach all these issues the way she did, with such verve and such precise imagination and basically by sticking her finger in an electrical outlet.”

Wild cat‘s producers signed one of the Screen Actors Guild’s interim agreements, allowing them to promote the film in Telluride during the ongoing actors’ strike. When asked if he’s concerned that signing that deal would hinder sales of the film, Ethan says, “I’m glad I’m not selling this movie to anyone who doesn’t meet SAG’s demands. If you’ve spent $60 million on a movie and your ambition is for everyone in the world to see the movie and make lunchboxes of the movie, that’s another goal. This is a very adventurous movie. It’s also a bit punk.”

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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