When you're a director who doesn't do a lot of press for your films, the chances are good that, if your movies are great, you'll start to cultivate an air of mystery that suggests you're some sort of enlightened being who operates on a higher plane while making your esteemed masterpieces. (In other words, The Terrence Malick Effect.) But such an approach can also produce a much-less-desired result: You get labeled as a recluse and a weirdo. (The Michael Jackson/Howard Hughes Effect.) For most people, Larry Wachowski, one-half of the directing team formerly known as the Wachowski brothers, now resides in that second realm. Or maybe we should call him by his new name, Lana Wachowski.
For several years now, Lana's behavior has been the subject of much gossip. When the Wachowskis were riding high with "The Matrix" in 1999, Lana (then Larry) and Andy Wachowski didn't do interviews, which only helped make the men behind that groundbreaking sci-fi film seem all that more cool and intriguing. But when Larry got involved with a dominatrix and divorced his wife, people started whispering that he was cross-dressing and undergoing hormone treatment to become a woman. But since the Wachowskis don't do interviews, who could say for sure?
That's when Rolling Stone ran a piece in early 2006 that investigated Larry's personal life, which raised a lot of eyebrows for its juicy content -- Larry and Ilsa are into kinky stuff! -- and angered folks who found it simply trashy or, worse, offensive to the transgender S&M community. By the time "Speed Racer" came out in 2008, it didn't matter that the movie was a commercial and critical failure: The once-vaunted Wachowski brothers were now widely seen as "those guys who used to be brothers, but now one of 'em is a chick."
But the Wachowskis have reemerged in recent months, what with them co-directing (with Tom Tykwer) "Cloud Atlas," a pretty ambitious little endeavor. Even more impressive, though, was that the Wachowskis were now being identified as Lana and Andy Wachowski -- and nobody was making a big deal out of it. This caused some tempered sighs of relief from entertainment writer Mark Blankenship for how far we've come as a society:
Larry Wachowski has transitioned to Lana Wachowski ... . She has quietly announced herself as being transgender.
That's a huge deal for the trans community, and I'd say it's an even bigger deal that no one has made a huge announcement about Lana's transition. No one has said "transgender director Lana Wachoswksi is helming a movie starring Tom Hanks." Instead, the focus has been on Lana's work. Her gender identity has been treated matter-of-factly.
In fact, the existence of Lana was, it appears, first revealed back in December when the trades reported the Wachowskis' involvement in a Robin Hood story called "Hood." The directing duo were identified as Andy and Lana Wachowski. And it happened again today with the announcement that Lana and Andy will be making a "major science fiction action franchise" for Warner Bros. called "Jupiter Ascending." No mention of Lana's backstory -- just the facts about the project.
This ought to be a good thing. In comparison to the pretty tawdry stories that started rolling out about five years ago about Larry/Lana, there seems to be an attempt, at least within the Hollywood press, to normalize Lana's transformation. If Hollywood, which much of the planet condemns for its aberrant behavior and lax morals, can't be accepting of someone like Lana, what chance does she have with the world at large?
But while I'd like to share Blankenship's optimism, I'm very worried that Lana is going to be facing some tough times ahead. "Cloud Atlas" is due out October 2012, and while it features a pretty starry cast that includes Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, Warner Bros. is going to have to decide how they're going to contend with questions about Lana. The studio shouldn't need to -- Lana's personal life is her own business -- but "Cloud Atlas" isn't some personal indie that will play on one screen in Los Angeles and New York for a week. This is a major studio film, which brings with it the attention of the planet's media outlets.
The Wachowskis have long been press-shy, but unlike a Malick (who at this point only boosts his films' prestige by shunning the spotlight), Lana and Andy might need to face the hard truth that their silence only perpetuates the negative impressions some have of them. I don't think that's fair -- because other people feel a certain way, the Wachowskis have to talk to the press to defend themselves? -- but it may simply be a commercial reality for "Cloud Atlas." There's a real opportunity for Warner Bros. and the Wachowskis to show that gossip and innuendo are rank and gross by tackling the issue head on, thereby proving that, really, Lana being transgender doesn't matter. But we live in an age when people freak out about Chaz Bono being on "Dancing With the Stars." As a society we're a long ways away from a time when a transgender director is wholly accepted. I hope I'm proven wrong, but I fear that I won't.