Jill Soloway on Feminism, Hollywood, and Her New Amazon Series 'I Love Dick'; with 'I Love Dick,' Soloway Eschews Conventional Expectations for How Women Should Appear on Screen (Read: Likable, Sexy) to Tell a Story in Which a Woman Is, in Her Words, "The Subject, Not the Object."

By Bobrow, Emily | Newsweek, May 19, 2017 | Go to article overview

Jill Soloway on Feminism, Hollywood, and Her New Amazon Series 'I Love Dick'; with 'I Love Dick,' Soloway Eschews Conventional Expectations for How Women Should Appear on Screen (Read: Likable, Sexy) to Tell a Story in Which a Woman Is, in Her Words, "The Subject, Not the Object."


Bobrow, Emily, Newsweek


Byline: Emily Bobrow

Jill Soloway laughs at the bravado she displayed during her early-career pitch meetings with Hollywood television executives. "I used to walk in and tell them, 'I want to do something no one has ever done before, and I want to change the world,'" she says. She soon learned that the writers who actually get their shows produced do so by promising to earn studios lots of money, so she toned down her revolutionary spiel. But now, after the runaway, Emmy-winning success of Transparent--an on-demand Amazon series that launched in 2014 and is loosely based on Soloway's own parent coming out as a transgender woman--Soloway is back to rabble-rousing. With Topple, the production company she founded in 2016, this writer-director-producer aspires to achieve nothing less than to "topple the patriarchy."

While walking around the Silver Lake reservoir, Soloway concedes that her goal to disrupt white male hegemony may be a bit hubristic. Most showrunners would be happy enough with the acclaim she received for Transparent and Six Feet Under--and some Porsche money. But don't underestimate her ambition to inject feminism into the male-dominated world of entertainment. With Transparent, Soloway made a point of hiring as many queer and transgender people as possible, which demonstrated the critical and commercial value of including marginalized voices in a creative process and helped launch quite a few careers. Now, with I Love Dick, her latest series for Amazon, she eschews conventional expectations for how women should appear on screen (read: likable, sexy) to tell a story in which a woman is, in her words, "the subject, not the object."

I Love Dick is based on a 1997 cult-classic novel by Chris Kraus. It is a mongrel of a book--part memoir, part cultural criticism, largely epistolary--about Chris Kraus, a married female filmmaker who becomes obsessed with a rangy, aloof academic named Dick. Much of the story is told through letters from Chris to Dick, her infatuation spurring her to probe nearly every part of her life and marriage. Chris's voice has a unique charisma: She is knowing and self-aware, intellectual and vulnerable. The book is unabashedly about art, life, relationships and female desire.

This unique perspective is what inspired Soloway to adapt the novel. Her series mainly follows Chris (Kathryn Hahn) as she explores the contours of her lust for Dick (a lean, steely-eyed Kevin Bacon) and wrests control over her own narrative. It also considers the lives of several other, mainly female, characters in the artsy town of Marfa, Texas. "A lot of people are going to come to this show because they want to see Kevin Bacon,"

Soloway says. "But really it is about the female voice and the female gaze and creating protagonism for women."

To figure out what this gaze and voice looks and sounds like, Soloway and the show's co-creator, Sarah Gubbins, enlisted a group of exclusively female writers, including acclaimed playwrights Annie Baker and Heidi Schrenk. Soloway noticed the effects of this gender homogeneity immediately. "There is no one there who will say, 'Well, that's gross, don't tell that story' or 'She's awful, she's a slut, what woman would do that?'" During her 15 years of writing scripts before she got her own show, Soloway says she regularly received notes from men complaining about the likability of her female characters. She was eager to make the I Love Dick writers' room "a protected space for women to just ask themselves, 'Who am I when there are no men watching?'"

Many of the writers involved in the show have described the atmosphere as uniquely democratic, empathetic and noncompetitive--a place of "radical honesty and radical vulnerability," according to Gubbins. This is typical of Soloway. People who work closely with her regularly praise the way she forgoes the hierarchical feel of a Hollywood set for a more open and collaborative environment in which everyone is encouraged to discuss their feelings and ideas. …

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Jill Soloway on Feminism, Hollywood, and Her New Amazon Series 'I Love Dick'; with 'I Love Dick,' Soloway Eschews Conventional Expectations for How Women Should Appear on Screen (Read: Likable, Sexy) to Tell a Story in Which a Woman Is, in Her Words, "The Subject, Not the Object."
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