Looks like former Texas State Senator Wendy Davis will be joining the ranks of Sarah Palin and Marie Ragghianti. Last week, it was reported that a movie about Davis’ headline-making 13-hour filibuster to block a very restrictive abortion bill was being shopped around—with Sandra Bullock of all people attached to star. The project, called Let Her Speak, is supposed to be focused on Davis’ rousing literal stand against curbing abortion rights, but it appears that the film, like plenty of other inspiring and moving films based on a true story, is going to stray from what really happened.
The film, which apparently includes Davis getting outfitted with a catheter in preparation for the 2013 filibuster, has the potential to rehabilitate Davis’ image following her disastrous 2014 gubernatorial campaign, which ended in her loss of over 20 points to Greg Abbott. But what makes Let Her Speak interesting and concerning is that not only does the refurbishing of Davis completely ignore her election campaign, and the work Davis is actually doing right now, but will include concepts that were born in a screenwriter’s imagination.
The Austin American-Statesman obtained a copy of the screenplay and noted some interesting embellishments and omissions from the story: At one point, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s character, who is the villain in this story and also a severely homophobic and transphobic (among other things) politician, mentions that mid-filibuster Davis looks “tired as a boom town whore.” This is presumably meant to convey what Patrick thinks of women in general. But another part of the film gives Davis credit for another woman’s words. Via the Statesman:
The script also takes a dramatic line delivered by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who returned to the Senate floor after burying her father at the very end of the filibuster and famously asked, “At what point must a female senator raise her hands for her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?” and gives that line to Davis.
It’s not surprising that the words of a woman of color (Van De Putte is Tejano) are being attributed to a white woman by a Hollywood film. After all, Hollywood does insist on the singularity of its heroes and also has an enormous issue including the voices of women of color. (Although it’s not too late to fix that!)
Of course, Davis’ filibuster was an astonishing example of resistance before “resistance” became a trendy, corporate way to describe hotels, even though the bill was ultimately passed. Davis definitely endured far more sexism, name-calling, and doubt than her male counterparts throughout her career. And male politicians who are the subject of biopics are always granted the benefit of slight fictionalization.
And audiences will understand to some degree that the events in the film have been altered and dramatized. Wendy Davis’ filibuster was a heroic and badass one, but it does seem like the success of the film as an inspirational retelling is more dependent on the fabrication of a Wendy Davis than the real one.