A new documentary premiering this week at the Tribeca Film Festival delves into the complicated legacy of director Kevin Smith’s 1997 rom-com Chasing Amy—a film that many LGBTQ+ people now consider problematic.
Queer filmmaker Sav Rodgers describes first seeing the film, about a straight man (Ben Affleck) who falls in love with a woman who identifies as a lesbian (Joey Lauren Adams), as a “transformative experience.” In a December 2018 TED Talk, he spoke about how Chasing Amy helped him survive the homophobia he experienced as a queer kid growing up in Kansas.
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“I had no one I could talk to. But I did have this one movie. I had a movie where the gay and lesbian characters were good. They were not always respected by other people within the film, but they were intelligent and funny and out. They were able to live as their authentic selves,” he said. “The spirit of Chasing Amy kept me alive for years to come despite the suicidal thoughts that began to permeate from the trauma I was continuously experiencing at school.”
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The film also sparked Rodgers’s interest in filmmaking. “I was so drawn in by the script and its sense of romanticism,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “I was like, ‘This could be a job. That’s amazing!’ My path really started there.”
That path led Rodgers to his feature debut, Chasing Chasing Amy. In the new documentary, which also depicts Rodgers’s process of coming out as trans, the filmmaker interviews Smith and several of the original film’s stars, including Adams, alongside queer cultural critics, many of whom don’t share Rodgers’s admiration of Chasing Amy. The 1997 film has long been criticized as a straight male fantasy in which a lesbian “turns straight” for the right guy.
As one critic notes in the doc, Chasing Amy is less authentic to the LGBTQ+ community than it is “authentic to the straight dude who falls for a queer woman community.”
But as Princess Weekes says in the film’s trailer, “Something that’s problematic can still mean a lot in your development,” as Chasing Amy did for Rodgers.
“I knew going in that it wasn’t going to be a lovefest,” Smith told Entertainment Weekly of the doc. “Just because Sav had had a positive experience with Chasing Amy didn’t mean that everyone the filmmaker talked to was going to be on the same page.”
“This is a flick that was made at a different time,” Smith said. “I can’t exactly apologize for my complete lack of education. I didn’t go to college for liberal arts studies or something like that. I just grew up with a gay brother, and Chasing Amy was kind of a fulfilled promise to my brother.”
“I always thought of Chasing Amy as kind of like a cultural Rorschach test, where whatever you’re looking to get out of it is probably what you’re going to get out of it,” Rodgers told Jezebel’s Rich Juzwiak. “Whether it’s intentional or not, your expectations or confirmation bias may inform how you read Chasing Amy as a movie, and I’m finding that it also may be that way for our documentary.”