Why Two New Drama Series Might Milk Misogyny

Photo of Graham Fuller
Film Editor2 August 2017

HBO’s porn-biz-inspired The Deuce and TNT’s murder mystery One Day She’ll Darken might turn out to be quality dramas, but their existence is depressingly symptomatic of the hunger for images of degraded and desecrated women.

Beginning in September, The Deuce is the latest series from The Wire‘s creator David Simon. It depicts the start of the New York pornography industry in the early 1970s—and HBO will hope it fares better than last year’s canceled ’70s rock biz series Vinyl.

The show takes its name from the nickname for 42nd Street when it was the ultra-sleazy, neon-lit commercial center of prostitution and porn in New York City. James Franco has been cast as the twins Vincent and Frankie Martino—one a gambler newly arrived in town, the other a barman—and Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the independent streetwalker Eileen “Candy” Merrell (Maggie Gyllenhaal).

Taxi Driver vibe

The realization, voiced by David Krumholtz’s character, that the city has no community standards prompts hard-nosed Candy and one or both of the Martinos to get rich by making hardcore porn. A 42nd Street grindhouse marquee sign advertising 1972’s Deep Throat indicates one source of their inspiration. The series, which has a distinct Taxi Driver vibe, also stars Gary Carr, Margareta Levieva, Zoe Kazan, and Gbenga Akinnagbe.

Chris Pine, who starred opposite Gal Gadot in Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, will be the male lead in One Day She’ll Darken. Set up as a TNT six-parter to be directed by Jenkins, the series has been scripted by her husband Sam Sheridan, who based it on Fauna Hodel’s autobiography.

De Palma’s disaster

Hodel’s paternal grandfather was George Hill Hodel, the late Hollywood physician and abortionist considered by some students of the unsolved 1947 “Black Dahlia” case to be the prime suspect in the mutilation and murder of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short.

Actress Mia Kirshner was acclaimed for her portrayal of Short as an aspiring starlet who compulsively claws her stockinged knees in The Black Dahlia; Brian De Palma’s 2006 retro-noir adaptation of James Ellroy’s frenetic conspiracy crime novel was otherwise critically mauled.

Mia Kirshner in The Black Dahlia | © Universal Pictures

In 1949, George Hodel’s teenage daughter Tamar accused him of sexual abuse; he was acquitted after a sensationalized trial. When Tamar was 16, she gave birth to Fauna; she claimed the father was an African-American even though the baby was white-skinned and blue-eyed. Tamar’s family arranged for Fauna to be adopted and raised by Jimmie Lee, a black maid working in a Las Vegas casino.

Father implicated

Fauna’s upbringing was a saga of poverty, racism, and sexual abuse. Her book details her shock on discovering she was not black, and her quest to find her birth mother. Naturally, it enfolds the Black Dahlia case.

Steve Hodel, a former LAPD homicide detective and Fauna’s step-uncle, has written a series of books that claim George Hodel, his father, was a serial killer, responsible not only for Short’s murder but the 1960s—70s Zodiac slayings.

Chris Pine in Wonder Woman | © Warner Bros.

Pine, Variety reports, will play “Jay Singletary, a former Marine-turned-hack reporter and paparazzo. Jay was disgraced over his story about Hodel years prior, but now he sees a glimmer of redemption. Jay sees an opportunity, but is also caught in a moral quandary.” It remains to be seen if Jay’s sleuthing will incorporate elements of Steve Hodel’s investigations into his father’s life.

Pre-emptive strike

The trailer (above) for The Deuce indicates it won’t be coy about showing attractive actresses posing as porn stars. She’ll Darken One Day will likely rake over the appalling demise of Elizabeth Short, who would have turned 93 tomorrow, July 29, had she lived.

Both shows should be given the benefit of the doubt until they have been aired. However, David Simon sent up a red flag before the Television Critics Association press corps on Wednesday when he delivered a pre-emptive strike against the suggestion that The Deuce could be misogynistic.

James Franco and Zoe Kazan in The Deuce | © HBO

“If we made something titillating, then damn us,” Simon is quoted as saying in Deadline. “Misogyny isn’t the currency. It’s what the show is about. That’s what the product was and we don’t sell beer or a Lincoln Continental without sexual imagery.” He added that the series focuses on the economy—not the morality—of porn, and how “the 1971 porn industry has impacted our current notions of market capitalism and society; who were the victims and the survivors of this bedlam.”

Salacious tastes

Simon is no doubt sincere. The problem is that the show’s re-creation and nostalgifying of the 1970s porn milieu will inevitably appeal to viewers with salacious tastes, who are not remotely interested in the industry’s ramifications for capitalism. Similarly, the news that One Day She’ll Darken engages with the Black Dahlia case will draw murder buffs and all stripes of prurient viewers. It’s high time Elizabeth Short was allowed to rest in peace.

The Deuce begins on HBO on September 17.

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