It’s LGBT History Month in the United States and it’s got me thinking about all the amazing queer figures that have come before. Hollywood loves their biopic movies — they’re usually great Oscar fodder, true stories are appealing, and it’s fun watching celebrities pretend to be historical figures.
There’s no point asking why there aren’t as many biopics of queer figures. We all know the answer and this is not the article to discuss Hollywood’s diversity problems.
This is the article to talk about one historical queer figure and why she should be the next subject of one of the great Hollywood biopics. After all, the times they are — well, hopefully — a-changin’.
We saw Moonlight win Best Picture earlier this year, and The Danish Girl earn multiple Oscar nods. While The Imitation Game perhaps could have explored Alan Turning’s sexuality more, it’s clear directors and writers aren’t completely averse to exploring more interesting stories.
So who’s this figure Hollywood needs to bring to the big screen?
The great Russian actress Alla Nazimova.
A quick snapshot
Alla Nazimova was born Adelaida Yakovlevna Leventon in Crimea in 1879.
She was the youngest of three, born from Jewish parents who divorced when she was 8. From there, she moved from boarding schools to foster homes to the homes of relatives.
As a teen, she joined the Moscow Art Theatre and it was there she used Alla Nazimova as her stage name for the first time.
During the first years of the 20th century, her fame grew across Europe. In 1905, she left for the United States and fame followed her.
She performed on Broadway to great acclaim, often appearing in plays by Ibsen and Chekhov. By 1916, she tried her hand at movies. This worked out less well for her. Though it started out well enough — leading to her producing and writing her own movies — she eventually left the film industry in 1925, returning to Broadway.
There is one thing the Oscars have proven time and time again — Hollywood loves rewarding nothing so much as itself. It’s part of why movies like The Artist, Argo, and La La Land, regardless of being great films or not, are showered with accolades.
(For the record, The Artist is one of my favorite movies, but it’s impossible to deny its indulgence.)
Therefore, the life of Nazimova is already ripe for success.
Lesbian parties abound
Nazimova openly pursued relationships with women. Two of her most notable lovers were Jean Acker and Natacha Rambova, the wives of Rudolph Valentino. (Well, historians are still out on the exact nature of Nazimova and Rambova’s relationship.)
She also coined the term ‘sewing circle’. The phrase indicated an underground community of lesbian and bisexual women in Classic Hollywood. Nazimova also frequently held ‘outlandish’ parties at her Sunset Boulevard mansion.
Perhaps one of the most interesting stories from her life, however, was her lavender marriage to British actor Charles Bryant. A lavender marriage is a heterosexual marriage in which one or both of the partners are homosexual or bisexual. The marriage, in essence, was to make them more socially acceptable in Hollywood.
The two co-existed from 1912 to 1925, until Bryant shocked everyone by marrying Marjorie Gilhooley, a woman twenty years his junior.
The realization that Nazimova and Bryant’s marriage was a sham dealt a severe blow to her career.
Just picture this
I even have some names to recommend for this project.
Amma Asante should direct the film for several reasons, the first being we need more female directors. She has experience with female-drive period pieces, including the stunning Belle and last year’s A United Kingdom.
As for who can play Nazimova, Hollywood could go the authentic route and cast a Russian or Eastern European performer like Yulia Snigir or Marina Aleksandrova.
For more recognizable names, Lizzy Caplan and Kristen Stewart would both be great picks.
There you go, Hollywood, you can thank me later.