Director Bill Condon on the controversy over Kinsey

By Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
Updated November 26, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

In a cultural climate where hearing the F-word on network television can incite ire, how will audiences react to a film about the F-word? If Kinsey’s Nov. 12 opening in New York and L.A. is any indication, the answer is with both praise and protests, the latter from conservative groups who object to Liam Neeson’s portrayal of the 1940s professor who spearheaded American sex education. Kinsey‘s divided reception isn’t surprising to writer-director Bill Condon: Even with an Oscar for 1998’s Gods and Monsters, it took him three years of hearing ”no” in Hollywood before he was able to secure financing for the $11 million film from a British company (Fox Searchlight is distributing). The result is a movie that’s ripe for Oscars…and outrage.

Kinsey‘s openness about sex and sexual research shocked the country in the ’40s. How far have we come since? We’ve come so far, but in so many ways it’s still the same as it was in Kinsey’s time. For me, it’s the vast difference between pop culture and the power structure in our country right now. I think the positions are hardening and people on each side are trying to step out of their own world and affect the other. It’s probably why conservatives feel under siege — there’s a sexual openness everywhere in pop culture that really reflects some of the things Kinsey got going, and at the same time if you want to submit a proposal for funding for education or sex research to the House of Representatives, you have to couch it with words like hygiene.

Do you think the election has fueled the division? During the election, the list of documentaries trying to inject themselves into the political debate was incredible — people felt they had to do more. I think because of the election people are feeling their oats, and they’re becoming more aggressive.

Do you have concerns about how Kinsey will be received? The campaign against us started two years ago, before we even started shooting. Dr. Laura Schlessinger aligned herself with [anti-Kinsey crusader] Judith Reisman, people sent letters to Liam Neeson’s mother. They really demonize Kinsey, and think he’s responsible for the sexual revolution. We open in the heartland Dec. 17, and I’m really looking forward to it. To me, it’s in the spirit of Kinsey. Kinsey spoke to everybody, not just people on one side of the political spectrum. I would hope that people have an open mind and check it out at least.

And it’s not likely audiences will see it on TV. [Laughs] We tried doing [an edited for] TV version of it, but it was only 60 minutes long.