14 June 2012

Fried Whitewashed Tomatoes

In the early 90s I saw Fried Green Tomatoes, like most people, and like most people I enjoyed it. I saw it again last week and I was disappointed.

The younger me understood the pathos, and Kathy Bates’ terrific arc, and all the things that made it a great story. I thought Idgie and Ruth were wonderful. I was happy the bad guy got made into BBQ. And that was enough.

Yesterday I felt it was missing something. It was so very pat and well put together. It seemed coy somehow. I looked up any trivia I could find and discovered this on IMDB:
In July 2008, afterellen.com reported that Mary-Louise Parker said that she, her costar Mary Stuart Masterson, and screenwriter (and original novel author) Fannie Flagg were all strong advocates for depicting in the film the lesbian relationship between Ruth and Idgie that had appeared in the book, but the director, Jon Avnet, and the producers of the film chose instead to excise the romance and just make the two characters into friends. In the DVD extras, Avnet does say that he considered Idgie and Ruth's food fight scene in the movie as an analogy for a love scene between the two that he chose not to include.

Why? According to an article in Entertainment Weekly:
"You can take it how you want to," director Jon Avnet says. "I had no interest in going into the bedroom."

Weird that he included marriage, then, since apparently making public your feelings for someone is “going into the bedroom.” Weird too that they allowed the women to have babies, since I’m certain that required a bedroom of some kind, unless it's the kind of film where the bedroom isn't okay but up against the side of the shed is fine.

Was a lesbian relationship too shocking for the time? The film didn't hesitate to show an abusive husband kick his pregnant wife down the stairs when she tries to leave him. Is two women in love more shocking than that?

I’m late to this disappointment party. In 1994 Lu Vickers wrote an extensive piece about how the film whitewashed lesbianism, racism, and pretty much every other –ism.  From this side of the decades it seems even more tentative.

I still like the film and I’m glad it’s out there, Tuwanda’ing its way through the parking lots of movie history. Obviously at the time it was exactly what I and many viewers wanted. But it’s interesting to me to notice how my expectations have changed for fiction. I'm not convinced it's good enough to present only a subtle suggestion of something so important, especially when that involves a change from the source material, and especially if you give no real reason for the change. If it’s that important—like the reality of the relationship between Idgie and Ruth—it should be allowed, and not analogized into a food fight.

Even a really great food fight.


  1. The book is lovely and the film less so, but I doubt the cuts were discriminatory. More likely the producers had a vision of what kind of movie middle-aged ladies would flock to and used that cookie-cutter approach to the source material. However, the film raised the profile of the book, which then was read by many more people than would otherwise have been the case, so it was all for the good.

    1. I doubt they intended to be discriminatory, and yes, most definitely just wanted to sell a lot of tickets. They succeeded, too.

      The idea of profile-raising by association sounds a little bit like the idea of how banning a book increases readership. I'm not convinced it's the best way to get a job done, but as you say, it works.

  2. I was never wild about the film, but I've read a few of Fannie Flagg's books. I thoroughly enjoy them. Maybe the best an author can hope for from a film adaptation is the chance to reach new readers. God knows the movies are horrible more often than not.

    1. I picked up the book last week, first of all to compare the source material to the movie, and also because I know just what you said: the book is usually so much better! There are few exceptions (though they do exist.)

  3. Having not read the book and only seen part of the film, I can't judge the adaptation. However, I know any sort of homosexual relationship was rare in mainstream U.S. films back in the 1990's, especially between the principle characters. It's one way in which Hollywood has gotten healthier in recent years. I wouldn't be surprised if it's re-adapted some day and maintains over even accentuates that excised material.

    1. Good point, maybe they will remake it with all its original ideas. Right now, even twenty years later, I still have a hard time thinking of anyone else playing Kathy Bates' character! But it could happen.


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