Feminist Cred?: Demi Moore Signs Up to Play Gloria Steinem in Linda Lovelace Biopic
Demi Moore’s next role is a far cry from the one she played in “Striptease” 16 years ago. Moore has been cast as the iconic feminist writer and activist Gloria Steinem in “Lovelace,” the first of two upcoming biopics about Linda Lovelace, star of the 1972 pornographic succès de scandale "Deep Throat.” Moore was last seen in the financial thriller “Margin Call."
Born in The Bronx in 1949, Lovelace — real name Linda Boreman — was 20 or 21 when she met Chuck Traynor in Florida. She later wrote that he prostituted her, tortured her, and forced her to become a porn actress. He also made her marry him so she couldn’t testify against him. When the truth emerged about their relationship (if one discounts Boreman’s critics), Steinem was the most sympathetic and outraged commentator on Boreman's extreme suffering.
Amanda Seyfried is playing Boreman. Peter Sarsgaard is Traynor, Sharon Stone is Boreman’s mother, Hank Azaria is Jerry Damiano, the writer-director of “Deep Throat,” and Wes Bentley is Larry Marchiano, who married Boreman after she escaped from Traynor. Adam Brody will portray “Deep Throat” actor Harry Reems and James Franco has a small part as Hugh Hefner. Eric Roberts and Chris Noth are also in the cast. Franco played Allen Ginsberg in “Howl,” the previous film made by the “Lovelace” director duo of Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman.
The $10 million movie is currently in production and will come out before Matthew Wilder’s “Inferno: A Linda Lovelace Story.” The latter was originally to have starred Lindsay Lohan, who was replaced by Malin Akerman; Matt Dillon, Paz de la Huerta, and former porn star Sasha Grey have joined Wilder’s film, reportedly.
In a 1980 Ms. Magazine article “The Real Linda Lovelace,” which was inspired by Boreman’s autobiography, Steinem emphasized how the popular notion that Boreman willingly participated in “Deep Throat” was a myth. Steinem catalogued how Boreman was enslaved by Traynor, regularly and viciously gang raped as a prostitute at his insistence, and so badly beaten by him that she was permanently injured.
Doing press for “Deep Throat,” Boreman was fed bromides by Traynor and passed them on to, among others, Nora Ephron. Though terrified by a scene in which a hollow glass dildo was inserted into Boreman’s vagina, Ephron was anxious not to come across as “those crazy feminists carrying on, criticicizing nonpolitical films in political terms,” and quoted Boreman (whom she interviewed on the phone) as saying, “‘I totally enjoyed myself making the movie. I don’t have any inhibitions about sex. I just hope that everybody who goes to see the film…loses some of their inhibitions.’”
“What Nora did not know,” Steinem wrote, “was that Linda would also write of her three escape attempts and three forcible returns to a life of sexual servitude: first by the betrayal of another prostitute; then by her own mother who was charmed by Chuck Traynor’s protestations of remorse and innocence into telling him where her daughter was hiding; and finally by Linda’s fear for the lives of two friends who had sheltered her after hearing that she had been made to do a sex film with a dog, and outside whose home Traynor had parked a van that contained, Linda believed, his collection of hand grenades and a machine gun.”
Steinem’s commentary, as urgent now as it was in 1980, reads like a paradigm account of misogynistic cruelty and the perniciousness of pornography that degrades women. Carolyn G. Heilbrun wrote in her book “The Education of a Woman: The Life of Gloria Steinem” (1995): “Steinem had reinvestigated the case to report its credibility, and gone to the rescue, as she had dreamed of doing in childhood, and this time she did help a hideously exploited woman to be believed and to regain some control over her life, to arrange later for a liver transplant that she needed because of the beatings, and to speak out about her terrible experiences during the filming of ‘Deep Throat’ and beyond. There are still women, to say nothing of men, who believe that rape victims ‘ask for it,’ that women enjoy being brutalized, and that battered women could easily escape if only they wanted to. Only recently has opinion begun to change on these issues, and Steinem’s defense of Linda Lovelace was a small part of that revision.” Boreman’s liver had also been damaged by hepatitis after she received a blood transfusion following a car accident in 1970.
Boreman went into hiding after she left Traynor and was eventually granted a divorce. She married Marchiano in 1976 and had two children with him; they divorced in 1996. After the publication of her first book, “Ordeal,” Boreman joined the anti-pornography movement and spoke on campuses and before government hearings on pornography, though she later criticized the movement for exploiting her name. She wrote a second book about her post-porn life. She died in Denver in 2002 from the results of injuries sustained in another car crash.
A handful of American fiction films have been set in the porn world, including "Boogie Nights" (1997), "Rated X" (2000) and "Wonderland" (2003) — of these, only the first offers a nuanced perspective on the damage the industry does to its actors and actresses. The makers of “Lovelace” will have to step through a minefield of clichés, assumptions, and moral quandaries not to exploit Boreman in death any more than she was exploited in life. Moore (depending, of course, on the size of her role) will need to portray Steinem sensitively as one woman who saw Lovelace as an appalling victim, not as a cause or, as many have seen her, as a crude joke.