Emily Dickinson did ‘twerking’ (and other ways to subvert biopics)

BarcelonaA century and a half ago the poet Emily Dickinson wrote that Death came to fetch her in a carriage to take her for a walk. In the world of generation Z, this sinister character takes the form of rapper Wiz Khalifa, at least in the approach of AppleTV + to the life of the writer in Dickinson, a series that has subverted the biopic genre and which is currently airing its third and final season. It is not the only license taken by creator Alena Smith to tell the life and work of the Amherst poet, played by Hailee Steinfeld: The World of Dickinson it’s multicultural, you hear Billie Eilish and there are parties where you dance twerk, all this without ceasing to be a period series. Are these choices a muddy way to scandalize the most classical minds or simply an effective way to bring a fundamental poet of literary history closer to younger (and not so much) audiences?

Alena Smith argues that many of her choices, despite being considered a subversion of the biographical genre, do not respond to a question of appearance or aesthetic position but seek to establish a common thread between the nineteenth century, in which the action takes place, and the present. In a recent interview with New Yorker, the screenwriter remarked that the use of a modern framework allows us to pay attention to elements that at other times would have gone unnoticed or broken with preconceived ideas. Among other things, Smith created the series to end “the myth of Emily as a depressed, shy and anemic person and say,“ No, she was a woman with a great sense of humor and passionate who, until and all within the limitations imposed by a very conservative society, he had the strength to write a work that includes some of the best texts written in English.

Emily Dickinson with Death.

The professor emeritus of the University of Barcelona María-Milagros Rivera Garretas, author of the book Emily Dickinson (Sabina Editorial) and co-founder of the Centro de Investigación de Mujeres Duoda, agrees with the creator of the series that the image that has historically been of the writer does not fit the reality, but defends that it already does years that it has become clear, without the need to make portraits with modern elements, that the poet was not the reclusive woman she had long been believed to be. “Who should be aware of this is the person who writes about it, should be well informed first,” says the teacher, who remarks that when it has been men who have approached the work of the poet “have not been able to accept all their greatness.” Smith’s portrayal of Dickinson is decidedly feminist and queer (one of the driving axes is the poet’s relationship with her friend and sister-in-law Susan Gilbert) and wants to escape being an academic treatise of the writer. “My interest is not to do a school analysis of the truth about Emily Dickinson. It’s to use Emily as an avatar to take a look at the world we live in,” explains the creator

Playing with history

Getting closer to today’s world is a principle that is also present in some of the diversity decisions that recent series have made. This is the case of The Bridgertons and especially ofAna Bolena, which just premiered on HBO Max. The series caused controversy in the United Kingdom after it was made public that the person in charge of giving life to Henry VIII’s second wife would be black actress Jodie Turner-Smith. Following the criticism that accused the series of not being historically accurate and of falling into an excess of political correctness, the director ofAna Bolena, Lynsey Miller, argued that the actress who best represented the spirit of the queen was sought. “It’s incredibly liberating not to have to be on the lookout for preconceived notions when it comes to the physical,” he asserted. On the other hand, the actress Thalissa Teixeira, a Brazilian of Brazilian origin who in the series plays Madge Shelton, cousin of Anna Bolena and lover of Henry VIII, argued that the series tells “a history of Britain and Great Britain. “Brittany today is very different. And I think we can tell a story that goes beyond what we’re saying. We’re not just talking about Anna Boleyn. We’re talking about stories about fidelity, brotherhood and brotherhood.”

Jodie Tuner-Smith com a Anna Bolena.

While the main subversion ofAna Bolena has been signing actresses and non-white actors, The great (Starzplay) has chosen to completely revolve around the story of Catherine the Great, played by Elle Fanning, to turn it into a torn comedy with a handful of histrionic characters, starting with the Empress’s husband, Peter III. The series, however, never deceives viewers: at the beginning of each episode there is a warning that warns them that what they are about to see is not an accurate historical account and that any resemblance to reality is pure coincidence. The creator of the series, Tony McNamara, who co-wrote it The favourite, another monarchical work with a vision of its own, claimed to have created The great seeking to explain issues of the present. “We are always asking ourselves ‘What is the contemporary question?’ Not only “I’m trying to form an empire” but “What would it be like for a woman in her twenties to end up trapped in a really disastrous marriage from which she can’t escape?”

Elle Fanning a 'The great'

In this version punky and ironic of the life of Catherine the Great sound songs from Tears for Fears, Primal Scream or Cat Power but the result has little to do with the aesthetics of another fiction that tried to play with a real story, the Marie Antoinette by Sofia Coppola. The story of The great, which premieres in its second season on December 19, uses the past to talk about the present as it does Dickinson.


Source: Ara.cat – Portada by www.ara.cat.

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