JT LeRoy (based on an extraordinary true story) and Tomboy explore what happens when two people explore a different identity.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, JT LeRoy was one of the most prominent young writers in the literary world thanks to burning books like Sarah and The heart is deceitful above all things. They were believed to be based in part on his life as a teenage prostitute in West Virginia.
LeRoy presented himself as a recluse paralyzed by social anxiety and there was good reason for that; he did not exist. JT LeRoy was actually the pseudonym of mid-30s writer Laura Albert, who had come up with the name years earlier while calling a suicide hotline. At first, Albert continued the charade through emails, faxes, and even phone calls where she put on a Southern drawl and pretended to be LeRoy. But when that proved insufficient, especially when Italian actress Asia Argento began negotiating film rights, the writer devised a desperate ploy.
In 1999, Albert coaxed his partner’s 18-year-old brother, Savannah Knoop, to play LeRoy at various events, even on international speaking tours. Dressed in a blonde wig, dark sunglasses, and a decidedly different West Virginia accent, the gender nonconforming Knoop has kind of cheated on everyone for the next six years – including some of the world’s biggest stars like U2’s Argento, Courtney Love and Bono – until the hoax was finally revealed to the media.
The English-language film of 2018 JT LeRoy, based on Knoop’s 2007 memoir Girl Boy Girl: How I Became JT LeRoy, stars Laura Dern as Albert, the force of nature, and Kristen Stewart as the vulnerable Knoop, who goes from a conflict with what they’re doing to a delight in the attention that they get.
“I feel like I’m doing something,” Knoop confesses in one scene, “like a performance, and I’m so compelled to do it.”
The real Knoop reveals that there were other reasons for their actions as well.
“I think my experience [as LeRoy] helped me dismantle the way we are meant to be and keep asking myself what it feels like, what parts matter to me, ”they say The Guardian. “I think [my gender neutrality] has always been there, and JT helped articulate it for me.
Argento – who had an affair with Knoop / LeRoy and, unsurprisingly, was furious at being cheated on – is not in the movie. Instead, director Justin Kelly (who co-wrote the screenplay) reinvents her as French actress Eva (Diane Kruger), who has been as manipulative as Albert in getting what she wants out of. Knoop / LeRoy. Eventually, the pair’s elaborate deception breaks down. This is a relief for Knoop, but also a source of frustration as they feel their intentions have been misunderstood.
Surprisingly, Albert and Knoop came out of the scandal relatively unscathed and both enjoyed great success in their respective careers as a writer and artist. It seems the only people who could have been hurt were the gullible celebrities who fell for the trap. However, credit Courtney Love for being a good sport about it – she even has a small role in the movie.
JT LeRoy is now airing on SBS On Demand.
French-language drama Tomboy (2011) begins with Laure, 10 years old (Zoé Héran) and her family who move to a new suburb during the school holidays. Once settled in, the androgynous-looking teenager sees other neighborhood kids playing and goes out to find them.
Laure poses as a boy named Mickaël and is quickly accepted into the group, also catching the attention of Lisa (Jeanne Disson), who develops a bit of a crush on Mickaël.
The film goes back and forth between calm scenes from Laure’s family life – interacting with her very pregnant mother (Sophie Cattani), her loving father (Mathieu Demy) and adorable little sister Jeanne (Malonn Lévana) – and the ‘energetic cut-and-push social from Mickael with his rowdy new friends as they play soccer, bathe and generally have fun in the woods near their home.
Laure does everything in her power to maintain the cunning, but a violent altercation one afternoon reveals the truth.
Writer / director Céline Sciamma, who regularly explores concepts of female gender fluidity and gender identity in her films, said Laure’s decision to impersonate a boy is not a conscious decision but rather a spur of the moment. She said that she was interested in basing the story on childhood.
“It’s a time when everyone pretends to be someone else for an afternoon,” Sciamma says. After Ellen. “Everyone makes up stories about themselves. I did this with multiple layers, so a trans person can say, “It was my childhood” and a straight woman can say that too.
Tomboy is now airing on SBS On Demand.