One of the unexpected pleasures of my time at HitFix has been getting to know the Wachowskis as people as well as filmmakers. When I was at Ain't It Cool, they released the Matrix trilogy and Speed Racer, and they didn't do any press to speak of for the films. They simply weren't available. I remember how eager Warner Bros. was to put us together with Joel Silver, and what a willing speaker on their behalf he was, but it was still disappointing to not get to speak with them about the work they were doing.
On Cloud Atlas, though, Warner Bros. knew they had something unusual, and they reached out early to see what people thought. I saw it with a group of critics mid-Summer, and as soon as the screening ended, I started asking how and when they could arrange for me to speak with the Wachowskis. Even once it happened, it was obviously a special thing, and there were very few of us who ended up sitting down with them for extended conversations during the Toronto Film Festival.
A few weeks later, they came to Austin for Fantastic Fest, and they asked me to moderate the Q&A after the screening. It was a great conversation, and a great evening, and after the screening, they came to the Highball and spent the next few hours chatting with fans and other filmmakers. During that entire process, it never occurred to me to treat Lana Wachowski as anyone but Lana Wachowski. There was one moment during the Cloud Atlas Q&A where someone pointed out how they were formerly billed as “The Wachowski Brothers,” and asked what to call them now. It was Lana who joked, “The Starship Wachowski,” and it was great seeing how comfortable and open Lana was. She not only defused the tension that comes with a question like that, but managed to utterly charm the audience in the process.
One of the things that I liked about Lana and Andy together was how deep and clear their connection was. Whatever Lana had gone through on her journey to living a public life as Lana, it was obvious that Andy was 100% supportive and proud. When I caught up with them before the release of Jupiter Ascending, it was the same way. There were small things about Andy's appearance that felt like they could just be a way of being supportive of Lana, like wearing nail polish, but again… it just came across as two very close siblings who shared one big, glorious brain.
By now, the news is starting to spread that Andy Wachowski has now transitioned to Lilly Wachowski, and in a statement to Windy City Times, self-described as “the voice of Chicago's gay, lesbian, bi, trans and queer community since 1985,” Lilly describes the circumstances that brought her to the decision to come out. Actually, it's more a matter of coming out to the media, since it's clear that Lilly has already been living an open life with her wife, her family, and her professional friends. For those who haven't read the letter yet, you really should. It's lovely in places, but it also addresses something very important, which is why Lilly felt she had to make this statement right now.
She describes how she's been living for the past year waiting for some media outlet to break the story, and how she's been contacted a few times by reporters looking for a statement. When no one actually ran the story, she started to actually have faith that the press was going to be decent about privacy for once.
Nope. Check out this excerpt:
Then last night while getting ready to go out for dinner my doorbell rang. Standing on my front porch was a man I did not recognize.
“This might be a little awkward,” he said in an English accent.
I remember sighing.
Sometimes it's really tough work to be an optimist.
He proceeded to explain he was a journalist from the Daily Mail, which was the largest news service in the UK and was most definitely not a tabloid. And that I really had to sit down with him tomorrow or the next day or next week so that I could have my picture taken and tell my story which was so inspirational! And that I really didn't want to have someone from the National Enquirer following me around, did I? BTW-The Daily Mail is so definitely not a tabloid.
My sister Lana and I have largely avoided the press. I find talking about my art frustratingly tedious and talking about myself a wholly mortifying experience. I knew at some point I would have to come out publicly. You know, when you're living as an out transgender person it's … kind of difficult to hide. I just wanted-needed some time to get my head right, to feel comfortable.
But apparently I don't get to decide this.
After he had given me his card, and I closed the door it began to dawn on me where I had heard of the Daily Mail. It was the “news” organization that had played a huge part in the national public outing of Lucy Meadows, an elementary school teacher and trans woman in the UK. An editorial in the “not-a-tabloid” demonized her as a damaging influence on the children's delicate innocence and summarized “he's not only trapped in the wrong body, he's in the wrong job.” The reason I knew about her wasn't because she was transgender it was because three months after the Daily Mail article came out, Lucy committed suicide.
And now here they were, at my front door, almost as if to say-
“There's another one! Let's drag 'em out in the open so we can all have a look!”
Wholly loathsome behavior. It is small wonder the Wachowskis have a general distaste for the press. Their private nature combined with the emotional experience of transitioning must make it positively excruciating to sit down for any interview. They have every right to expect some basic human decency from other people as they pursue their own personal happiness and health, and for The Daily Mail to strong-arm Lilly Wachowski is repulsive. Writing about the Wachowskis as artists is perfectly fine, but bullying them under the false pretense of “serving the interests of the public” is absolutely despicable, and once again, the Wachowskis have a bad experience that will lead them to trust the press even less.
Here's the thing, though… it's not like the Wachowskis were hiding in their work. Gender and identity have been part all of their films as directors. Look at their films. Bound. The Matrix. Cloud Atlas. Sense8. They have been telling us for years that we are more than these skin suits we wear. Much more. In Cloud Atlas, we are souls that repeat across history, connecting and colliding in beautiful patterns. In The Matrix, humans are weak and enslaved on the outside and infinitely powerful on the inside. In early drafts of the script, the character Switch was supposed to be played by both a man and a woman depending on whether they were in the Matrix or in the real world. The entire first film is about unlocking your own potential and transcending how you look and embracing who you are.
In Sense8, eight strangers scattered across the globe suddenly discover that something is connecting them all, something that allows them to see the world through other people's eyes. Once again, your outside is a shell and your inside is who and what you really are. Jamie Clayton, who plays a major role in the series, is a trans woman, as is her character. She's great in the role, too. There are plenty of great performances in Sense8, and anyone feeling like they're not represented in pop culture should look at how the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski cast and wrote this series. This is what the real world looks like. This is what diversity looks like.
In the end, it all comes down to respect. The Wachowskis deserve your respect, and not because of the work they've done, and not because they are famous. They deserve your respect because of the graceful face they've each shown the world now and the example they are setting for a community. Here's hoping both Lilly and Lana are embraced by Hollywood. I love you, Lana and Lilly Wachowski. I love that you both had the courage and the support to share your real face to the world. And I am sorry that you were cornered into doing so by a cheap, shoddy English tabloid. You have created art that has moved me for many years now, and now your lives stand as an example for people who might feel that their own identity is a trap or that they have to live in fear.
There is no making up for what The Daily Mail did to Lilly, but why not look at the positive side: your may well save lives, and even one life saved is a victory.
Long live Lana Wachowski. Long live Lilly Wachowski. And here's hoping we see new art from them sooner rather than later. Their voices matter, and so does their work. In fact, why not close with a quote from The Matrix that feels particularly appropriate? Neo could be speaking directly to The Daily Mail and anyone else who feels that they have the right to abuse someone just because their identity threatens you. I have news for you, Daily Mail… the Wachowskis will leave behind words and movies and ideas that are genuinely important. The Mail is already lining birdcages everywhere. You cannot appeal to hate. You have to turn and face your problems and let change wash over you.
I know you're out there. I can feel you now. I know that you're afraid… you're afraid of us. You're afraid of change. I don't know the future. I didn't come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it's going to begin. I'm going to hang up this phone, and then I'm going to show these people what you don't want them to see. I'm going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.
Here's hoping for several more decades of seeing whatever it is that the Wachowskis have to show us.