Filmmaker Jane Schoenbrun took over Sundance & made a profound impact on queer audiences

Filmmaker Jane Schoenbrun took over Sundance & made a profound impact on queer audiences

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Jane Schoenbrun

When Sundance comes around every January, there’s always a buzzy film that emerges from the dust of the Park City, Utah based festival. Sometimes that buzz settles and other times it continues to grow.

Writer/director Jane Schoenbrun’s second feature, I Saw The TV Glow, was that film this year and since its premiere and subsequent festival run, its buzz has become a roar.

The horror film follows two teenagers in the ’90s, Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Owen (Justice Smith) who bond over a Buffy The Vampire Slayer-esque television show, The Pink Opaque. As they get deeper into the show, their reality versus the plot of the show begins to collide. 

Schoenbrun’s feature, which was released in theaters in May, has connected deeply to its trans and queer audience. They wrote the film about the “egg crack,” a moment in which a trans person realizes they are trans for the first time, which for many has created visceral, emotional responses.

Speaking to Elle, Schoenbrun said they’ve had audience members tell them seeing the film was their “egg crack” moment. Much like Maddy and Owen, who find comfort and by proxy aspects of themselves in The Pink Opaque, many LGBTQ people have also figured out their identities through portrayals in the media.

The A24 backed project has allowed for Schoenbrun to be able to reach a larger audience and be able to fully envision their gorgeous, queer worlds. But they’ve been doing this for awhile already, albeit on a smaller budget.

Their 2021 film, We’re All Going to The World’s Fair, explores similar territory. Casey (Anna Cobb) who gets sucked into the online Creepypasta horror community and decides to do a “World’s Fair” challenge for the group, which appears to consume the person once they’re involved.

In an interview at the time with Pittsburgh City Paper, Schoenbrun said they were interested in exploring their identity at the time through the film. “Trying to make a movie about really dark feelings without creating the emotional distance of me patting the characters on the head — saying that everything is going to be okay and being trans is great — to do something that felt truthful to my coming-out process.”

Now that TV Glow’s success has cemented them as a bonafide new directorial voice to listen to, Schoenbrun’s presence as a trans filmmaker to watch will hopefully open up more opportunities for other trans filmmakers and trans people in other Hollywood positions of power.

However, Schoenbrun is rightfully skeptical, as they told Elle.

“Until the sort of gaze and value system that I share with the trans community, which, by nature of who we are has to be radically different than the boomer coded capitalist hellscape that we’re trying to circumambulate; until there is a place where we can exist without feeling insane and burnt out and needing to retreat into our little spaces that we built for ourselves where we can feel like ourselves, I don’t know that this tension or this problem gets better.”

How lucky are we to be in a world where we get to experience the art of Jane Schoenbrun from their singular, beautiful mind and simultaneously get to hear their correct critiques of an industry that needs to do better by the trans and queer communities.

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