By Katie Hasty
January 25, 2020 at 05:02 PM EST
Desiree Navarro/Getty Images

Part of the propulsion for Julie Taymor to tell the life story of feminist icon Gloria Steinem on screen — in her new film The Glorias — was personal. The two women met more than a decade ago, when Taymor experienced what she said was a taste of gender bias in one of her areas of expertise: theater.

“I’ve been directing a long time, and I’ve gone through a lot of stuff. And for a long time, I kept my blinders on and said there’s no such thing as misogyny. Until I got it really bad on a show,” Taymor told EW during the EW x NRDC Sundance Film Festival Panel Series conversation in Park City, alluding to the tumultuous Broadway history of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. “Gloria came to my side and she said ‘It’s OK. I get it. Been there. Done that.’”

It was years later that Steinem gave Taymor her blessing to pursue The Glorias, which is based on Steinem’s book My Life on the Road. The shoot for the feature, which stars Julianna Moore and Alicia Vikander as Steinem at different ages, actually started with the activist herself, on the night of the 2016 election, when Donald Trump was elected U.S. president over Hillary Clinton. It was an outcome neither the filmmaker nor Steinem anticipated; Taymor’s cameras rolled.

“[Gloria] perkily said, ‘Now we have to look to the upside of the downside.’ I get tears in my eyes thinking about it,” says Taymor. The acclaimed director (Frida, Across the Universe) wants to introduce that wit and positivity to new audiences. “I know that many young women that I’ve met [Gloria’s] look, the glasses, the cool clothes… they know she was attractive, but they don’t really know what she was about.”

Embedded in a film like The Gloria is also a response to a theme that often accompanies traditional biopics and critically acclaimed films: violence.”One of the actresses [in The Glorias] said, when they read the script, ‘Where are the battles, where is the blood? They’re not in jail, they’re not being beaten!” Basically: ‘Where is the testosterone?’” Taymor relayed. “I thought about it. And that was true. How many movies on the top [critical] lists end in incredibly violent scenes? Including Parasite, which I love. If you go through them, look at the four or five top movies and tell me how they end.

“We have a problem with thinking that that’s entertainment,” she continues. “Is our visceral excitement going happen if blood doesn’t flow? Can you have a revolutionary film about activism and activists without blood and violence? There’s definitely talk about rape and those issues. But do we have to show that? I’m not saying I wouldn’t want to… listen, I’ve done Titus. That was not the quotient in this story. I’m looking for the positive energy.“

The EW x NRDC Sundance Film Festival Panel Series continues at the 2020 Sundance film festival at the NRDC Impact Lounge through Monday (Jan. 27). Other guests include Zazie Beetz, Eva Longoria, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

The Glorias, which is an acquisition title at the fest, premieres tomorrow (Jan. 26).

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