Julie Taymor Sets Filmmaking Comeback With Gloria Steinem Biopic

Taymor’s next feature will focus on the early years of one extremely influential feminist icon.
By  · Published on September 28th, 2017

Taymor’s next feature will focus on the early years of one extremely influential feminist icon.

Finally, Julie Taymor is out of hiding! The woman behind Frida, Across the Universe, and a myriad of Shakespeare pictures is back in the land of movies. Deadline Deadline reports that Taymor is slated to direct a coming-of-age story about feminist Gloria Steinem.

The film will be based on Steinem’s memoir “My Life on the Road” and adapted by playwright Sarah Ruhl. Ruhl’s plays have received significant attention — she is a Tony Award nominee, and two of her plays were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The film world would be more acquainted with Taymor’s work, even if her projects are few and far between. Flamboyance and high drama are all part her oeuvre, although that isn’t to her detriment. The Steinem biopic could perhaps preemptively be compared to Taymor’s loving portrait of Frida Kahlo. Here, art doesn’t just imitate life — rather, it’s a deeply intertwined cycle. Frida‘s vibrant visuals practically jump through screens, melding together with the character of Frida herself (played with glorious conviction by Salma Hayek) and literally coming alive before our eyes.

Similarly, Across the Universe draws from such an interconnected approach. The realities of the film’s narrative are amplified, complemented, or just straight up turned into fantasies with musical numbers, choreography, and high-concept set pieces.

Taymor’s strengths lie in the theatrical, even if not many appreciate the effort. Her version of The Tempest received generally unfavorable reviews, with viewers critical of its garish visual effects, frenetic sound design, and approach to the narrative. At least the gender-bending of the role of Prospero (performed as Prospera by a formidable Helen Mirren) was well received.

Interestingly enough, Taymor used similar over-the-top techniques in her other Shakespeare adaptations, like Titus, much earlier in her career. Notably, Titus was much more warmly received than The Tempest in spite of those technicalities. Perhaps that then has something to do with source material. Obviously, people are fairly precious about Shakespeare in general, to put it lightly. Still, Taymor, if anything, delivers her own very distinct flavor to those texts:

Taymor’s sheer originality and fearlessness is thoroughly commendable. She may have had a pretty bad year with The Tempest bombing and awful back-and-forth on Broadway’s “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.” But she regained her footing with A Midsummer Night’s Dream (both on stage and on screen) and “Grounded,” a play starring Anne Hathaway.

No doubt the Steinem biopic will fully bring Taymor back under more scrutiny, but the real Steinem speaks extremely favorably of the crew: “So now that we are on this journey together, I hope and believe the result will encourage many more travelers — especially women in all our diverse realities — to tell our own stories.”

Per Taymor’s own statement, there’s an inkling of how her cinematic style will mesh with Steinem’s life story:

“When I read the book, it demanded that it be a film. It’s so vividly cinematic, with entertaining and complex characters and, like Gloria herself, also witty and provocative.”

Taymor indulges in the extravagant and utilizes different media in her work, and her individualistic approach to filmmaking is practically perfect for a Steinem biopic. The kinetic, effervescent images in her films are greatly suited for such a galvanizing icon. Now we’re here waiting with bated breath for further details of the production, especially casting.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)