Director Ethan Hawke is currently working on post-production for Wildcat, an upcoming Flannery O’Connor biopic starring his daughter, actor Maya Hawke—a fact I was unaware of until just now, seeing the above photo of Maya as the singular Georgian fiction writer whose comments on race have inspired a reconsideration in recent years, and who died young, at 39.
It’s interesting to think about what the film might be, knowing only at this point that it will follow the “struggle” of O’Connor publishing her first novel. Will the film focus on the prickly forms of invention in her stories, which often take shocking turns and portray the South in bleak and Gothic terms, or will we be learning more about the blinkered view she held of race relations as someone shaped and limited by Southern culture, post-Jim Crow? Or, to pick a third thing, will it be more of a straightforward underdog-lady-writer-gets-published-then-gets-lupus-and-needs-crutches kind of movie?
At this stage in the project, we get only a general wave at the life and times of an artist. Collider quoted Ethan Hawke as saying:
Maya has been working hard for years to put this project together, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to introduce a new generation of filmgoers to the genius of Flannery O’Connor … Her work explores themes important to all artists—the intersection of creativity and faith, the blurred relationship between imagination and reality.”
That leaves a lot of room. I mean really—there is a lot to chew on here!
The cast list on IMDB includes Laura Linney, Steve Zahn, and Cooper Hoffman (yess) as Manley Pointer, a character from “Good Country People” who is best summed up by Rosa Lyster:
In this story, Manley Pointer begins seducing a woman with a doctorate in philosophy who legally changed her name to Hulga at the age of twenty-one. One of Manley’s attempts at conversation is to ask Hulga if she has ever eaten a chicken that was two days old. Later, he opens his Bible to reveal a hollowed core housing his liquor, cards, and condoms. After he argues about which one of them believes in God less, he steals Hugla’s wooden leg. Read those sentences again, and then imagine him doing all of that while wearing a luminous blue suit and yellow socks. It’s powerful. And it freaks me out.
A 2020 New Yorker piece by Paul Elie asked “How Racist Was Flannery O’Connor?” noting diary entries in which she suggested James Baldwin was too uppity (I’m paraphrasing) and recalled in a letter to the director of Yaddo the below:
Lately we have been treated to some parades by the Ku Klux Klan. . . . The Grand Dragon and the Grand Cyclops were down from Atlanta and both made big speeches on the Court House square while hundreds of men stamped and hollered inside sheets. It’s too hot to burn a fiery cross, so they bring a portable one made with electric light bulbs. attending a parade of the Ku Klux Klan, who brought a cross decorated with electric lightbulbs (because safer than an actually flaming cross).
Elie points out that while 1943 seems a long time ago to hold these comments to current ethical standards, O’Connor was a contemporary of Toni Morrison and a beat behind Ursula Le Guin and Maya Angelou.
And of course Maya Hawke is an artist bringing her her own particular interests and approaches to the project. She told Rolling Stone in 2022 that Balthus’ painting “Therese Dreaming” had caught her eye throughout childhood:
Walking through the Met, which I did constantly as a kid, I was always taken by this painting, because so many of the young women were these kind of dainty, feminine, old fashioned-looking paintings, and she wasn’t. She was man-spreading, and had this confident position of her hands and wasn’t looking at the viewer. She had this unselfconscious ease to her that was really inspiring to me, and made me feel seen.
I get some O’Connor vibes from that. Here’s O’Connor back in the day (she died in 1964). Ethan and Maya! Please send me more details!
ETA: The post has been updated to better specify where O’Connor had seen the KKK and include a still from the Wildcat production.