Nancy director Christina Choe talks equality behind and in front of the camera, and explores the nature of truth
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Christina Choe is the director and screenplay for the most recent must-see psychological thriller, Nancy. It stars Andrea Riseborough as the titular character, a woman who becomes convinced that her parents are a couple she sees on the news, whose daughter went missing thirty years ago. Nancy being a sort of modern anti-hero, director felt that “there weren’t that many female anti-heroines, or female characters that were complicated, messy and morally ambiguous – of which there are just so many male characters in basically every TV show.” “And it was five years ago that I started thinking about writing this, and I was also really obsessed with real life imposter stories, and very fascinated by these people who are definitely not doing it for financial gain, at least usually, and there’s a psychological reason that felt very mysterious. Around the same time that Choe was thinking about her writing her first feature, “I found out that one of my favourite writing professors was basically a fraud. And he’s this person that everyone at school worshipped, like a sort of Dead Poet’s Society character. A ‘we would follow him off a cliff’ kind of person. He was a little like a cult leader, now that I think about it, about how obsessed you were with him. “And he told us he was a ghost writer for this huge Hollywood franchise, and that he was a playwright from Ireland, all these things. And he was very charming… But basically, it came out that he was lying to the school, he was lying to his family, and obviously a lot of people felt really angry about it and betrayed. Meanwhile I was kinda like ‘Oh fascinating, my favourite topic!’” Choe laughs. “But basically, after a while it came to this conclusion of, does it really matter if it was a lie, when what I got out of it was so authentic and genuine? And that theme really became the theme of Nancy, so it was an evolution of these things that ended up making the story. And on a deeper level I just think I’m very fascinated by what truth means. I started off as a documentary filmmaker, and then made a documentary secretly shooting in North Korea, where I was essentially navigating between what the government’s propaganda was and what was true… so I think that theme is endlessly fascinating to me.” There is a tendency amongst critics or audiences to react negatively to a female anti-hero, and in a way which they wouldn’t were the character male. “It’s decades of being conditioned to see men being duplicitous or despicable, having a morally ambiguous relationship with the people in their lives, or just being confused, or lost, or sad, or whatever!” explains Choe. “All these are adjectives where as soon as it’s applied to a woman, it takes on this negative connotation. When you see men do it, it’s like ‘that’s fascinating’, and it’s because they’ve inhabited this space for so long that we’ve accepted it, that that’s more acceptable or interesting. It’s the typical gender binary politics. “It’s like watching the Kavanaugh hearing! If a woman acted that hysterical and ridiculous, clearly not being able to control their emotions and lying, she would be vilified, it would be done. She’d be painted as this hysterical, emotional, lying bitch. And it goes back to this idea of not having enough complicated female characters. And not just complicated, but ones that serve roles in the narrative outside of the wife, the friend, the love interest, where their actions are driving the narrative without some dude… that’s really rare.” “My editor and I would talk a lot about how we hate when people would say, ‘Make her [Nancy’s character] more likeable!’. And we said it’s not about likability, it’s about accessibility to her emotional state. Why do women have to be likeable first, before they can do anything? So that was a big reason for me to do a film, just to add more to the canon of complicated female characters.”
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