Last February, 18 year old Constance McMillen made national headlines when the Itawamba County school board refused to allow her to wear a tuxedo and bring her lesbian partner to the Itawamba County Agricultural High School prom. McMillen brought in the ACLU to fight back and the board cancelled the prom. Constance was subjected to intense bullying at the school and on Facebook from students, parents and hordes of antigay attackers outside the small Mississippi town, about 20 miles east of Tupelo.
Despite fears of retribution, the young lesbian stuck by her right to freedom of expression and became a reluctant hero. “My daddy told me that I needed to show them that I’m still proud of who I am,” McMillen said at one point. “The fact that this will help people later on, that’s what’s helping me to go on.”
When openly gay Storyline Entertainment producing partners Craig Zadan and Neil Meron heard the story, they knew they had to try to make into a TV movie – as McMillen said – to hopefully help young people.
The producing team has a solid track record of going to the heart of a civil rights issue and changing hearts and minds by telling a story, including:
Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story, the gays-in-the-military story co-produced with Barbra Streisand and starring Glenn Close and Judy Davis; What Makes A Family, starring Brooke Shields and Cherry Jones about lesbian child custody; Wedding Wars, starring John Stamos, the first film about same sex marriage; Hairspray, the John Waters civil rights/integration story made into a musical starring John Travolta in the character made famous by Divine; and Cinderella, the TV retelling of the old favorite with African American singer Brandy as Cinderella, heading an intentionally racially diverse cast.
I spoke with Craig Zadan by phone late Thursday about the news that he and Meron are producing the McMillen story. He was on the Atlanta set of yet another civil rights movie, Footloose, a re-make of the popular 1984 movie about youth culture confronting staid small town religion. We talked about the timing of this TV movie for ABC Family – in which McMillen triumphs – at a time when gay teen bullying has become an epidemic.
When McMillen’s story first made news in February, Zadan said, “we started seeing reports on CNN and reading about it in the newspapers. Neil and I said this seemed like a very, very important subject to tackle and we went after it.” Told there were other producers vying to option the story, they said they really wanted an opportunity to “audition” for it.