The Knockturnal was on the scene for the New York premiere of “Colette” at MoMA in New York on September 13.
The film tells the true story of famed French author Colette (Knightley), who is pushed by her husband to write novels under his name. Upon their success, she fights to make her talents known, challenging gender norms. From the film: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Jake Graf, director/writer Wash Westmoreland, producers Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler, Elizabeth Karlsen and Bleecker Street’s CEO, Andrew Karpen were in attendance. Additional guests included: Chelsea Clinton, James Murphy, Alysia Reiner, David Alan Basche, John Glover, Tovah Feldshuh, Whit Stillman, Michelle Smith and Theodora Miranne to name a few. We spoke with the cast about the importance of the film. Read our exclusive interviews below:
The Knockturnal: What relevance does Colette bear for the LGBTQ community in this day and age, if any?
Wash Westmoreland: It has an extraordinary relevance for the queer community. I am a queer filmmaker. I’ve been a queer activist for over 30 years. And the thing that appealed to me and my partner about the story is that it’s a story about a heterosexual marriage that unexpectedly has a queer explosion in the middle of it. Colette came from the countryside. She went with what she felt was natural. She wasn’t necessarily combined with the morals of society and that allowed her to express herself, not only in her personal life as this sort of adventurous life but afterwards she would go and write them. She had affairs with women, and one particular woman, Missy who was very much adopting masculinity and identified as a man. And so it was really like the origins of a transgender identity. Before that was ever spoken before, before that even existed. Colette and Missy shared a love affair so that was a very inspiring and dynamic thing, these were the trailblazers at the beginning of the modern age.
Jake Graf: So obviously I’m a trans man. And to be apart of this project was a huge honor for me. I actually helped on the character “Missy”, who Denise Gough, plays so brilliantly. You know for me to be apart of a project like this, which is really, I think, very queer, very LGBT. It has such a powerful message, not just for women, but for queer and trans people as well. It shows that not only have powerful women been around since the dawn of the ages, but so have trans people. Missy is an early trans man character and I think the whole thing is so of the movement. I think particularly with the Me Too movement, it’s a really important film for not only young women to see but for people across the world to see.
Keira Knightley: I think the film is about acceptance. It’s about finding yourself and living without shame. I think for every community that that’s important but she was probably in a modern day identification, bisexual. She is unapologetic, she lived publicly and she explored her sexuality and I think that’s a wonderful thing.
The Knockturnal: Colette seems like quite a feminist film. Why does she stay with her husband for so long?
Wash Westmoreland: In those days, it was not easy for women to get out of a marriage. There were all kinds of cultural oppressions. Plus, they were a celebrity couple. I’m sure there’s quite a few celebrity couples today that are glued together because they have this public image. And then also, her husband Willy as we saw in the movie is a villain but is also incredibly charming and has many weapons; emotional, psychological, and sexual, which he deploys to keep her down. So it’s a struggle, not just against a cardboard villain, it’s also a three dimensional living, breathing man. You understand their relationship, weirdly what’s good about it, but also why she has to escape.
Jake Graf: She is a powerful woman. Behind every man is a powerful woman. I studied her in school and she is one of our French heroines. She is a fabulous woman. She is creative and intelligent. She had a man who unfortunately at the time called the shots, and I think that still happens today. Unfortunately, there are men who are abusing women and using their power and intelligence for their own gain. But I think, what Colette did, hopefully people will realize and learn from her story because this has been going on for millennium. With the Me Too movement, this is a woman who really threw off those shackles and I hope people are really inspired by that.
The Knockturnal: What’s the main thing you hope the audience takes away?
Wash Westmoreland: I hope when viewers see the film, they will say when a challenge comes in their life,”I’ll do a Colette on this one”. I’ll just charge at it all, think of the most interesting, original way to tackle a problem. Be who you are and just do what you want to do in life.
Jake Graf: I hope people realize that it is possible to be your authentic self. To know that there were trailblazers for the last 100 and more years. That being yourself and being true to yourself is the most important thing.
Keira Knightley: Fun! I thought it was a lot of fun! It’s incredibly fun but I think for me, I felt incredibly empowered and I hope [they] feel empowered watching it.
An elegant afterparty followed at Rainbow Room where guests enjoyed Casa Noble Tequila drinks titled Claudine’s Sour Twist and Willy’s Ghostwriter.
The film opens in select theaters on September 21st.
Photo Credit: Patrick Lewis/Starpix