Rachel Dolezal: The Movie Is Inevitable

Rachel Dolezal NAACP
Spokane NAACP

Let there be no doubt that the Rachel Dolezal story will be told by Hollywood. The only question is what kind of story will be told?

Ever since the leader of the NAACP’s Spokane, Wash., division was discovered last week to be a Caucasian woman masquerading as an African-American, her still-developing tale has captivated the nation in a way that’s just begging for dramatization.

Sure, the 24-hour news cycle seemingly chews up and spits out this kind of spectacle before moving on to something else 24 hours later. And social media tends to find another target to make its meme du jour even quicker.

But Dolezal isn’t going to be forgotten that easily. More than a few savvy movie producers out there surely already know that.

What separates Dolezal from the rest is the way her story operates on two different levels: It’s both a tabloid freak show that can be enjoyed as pure media circus, but it is also resonant on a deeper level regarding the complex debate over race in America that has been raging lately.

But it’s precisely that duality that makes how Dolezal’s story will be treated an interesting question mark. Will this end up a made-for-TV potboiler that barely skims the surface of this woman’s life, or can this be fodder for the kind of film that lures Oscars?

Which isn’t to say elevating the material would demand it be some weighty thumbsucker either; Dolezal may be better off handled as a comedy than a drama, or somewhere in between those two poles, the way David Fincher did so brilliantly last year in “Gone Girl.”

Regardless of the genre, the bigger suspense regarding how her story will be told is where along a spectrum that runs from Lifetime-level trifle to Weinstein-grade gravitas this will land.

The mere hint of tabloid taint might seem to doom Dolezal’s story to follow in the same disposable manner as “Cleveland Abduction,” a cable retelling of the horrifying kidnapping of several young women that aired last month. But don’t be so sure.

What may make Dolezal most marketable as a movie is there’s got to be more than a few notable actresses champing at the bit to take on a role with the potential to be this memorable. Dolezal has yet to speak directly to this subject, and yet it’s already clear from the footage of this troubled soul all over YouTube that she was a character with a capital C.

Buzzfeed has even gone so far as to assemble a who’s who of melanin-deprived actresses capable of playing Dolezal (my favorite suggestion: Amy Schumer).

That doesn’t mean she’s simply a clown to be caricatured. From what little we know about her at this early stage, there is more to the story than simply dismissing her as mere lunatic. A sympathetic portrait is even possible when you consider the family that ultimately turned on her as well as the controversial notion that singer Keri Hilson has drawn fire for: that her civic-mindedness excuses her highly questionable methods.

Best of all, it’s going to give an actress the tightrope walk of trying to play a white woman who successfully fooled many into thinking she was black for at least a decade. While many on Twitter in recent days have drawn the parallel to a similar role Robert Downey Jr. played for laughs in the comic-action film “Tropic Thunder,” his character was actually a satire of a notion that remains all too true in Hollywood: Viewers and critics love performances that are chameleon-esque to an extreme, and Dolezal is the living embodiment of that.

Ultimately, the creative direction a Dolezal biopic takes will be dictated by whatever twists and turns her saga takes next. If, for instance, her allegations of being abused by her parents as a child turn out to be true, this may not be the stuff of great comedy. But if she conducts herself as oddly in her next media appearances as her track record might suggest she would, playing this as a straight drama just won’t happen.

Regardless, these issues will work themselves out. When the headlines hand Hollywood a story this juicy, it’s only a matter of time.

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  1. My only hope is the movie depicts a small history of human rights activism against white supremacy in the Spokane/Coeur d’Alene region, which has been comprised mostly of white people. What she’s done is a slap in the face to all of us up here.

  2. Gayle says:

    Big deal. She’s good at her job so leave her alone. Is there a written document that states the director must be African American?

    • satireknight says:

      The problem is not that she got a job at the NAACP.

      The problem is that she took paid appointments where she lied to people — including children — about her life and experiences as a black woman. She committed fraud at her college. She faked hate crimes for the police. No, I won’t “leave her alone,” because she committed crimes that should be punished.

      And I doubt that you or anyone else would take the same stance if a black woman – especially a dark-skinned one – decided that she is now white and will be treated as such by everyone.

  3. Derek StJohn says:

    As an entertainment journal I would have thought that you were aware of the 1964 movie, “Black Like Me.” It’s the REAL LIFE story of white journalist John Howard Griffin, who darkened his skin color, cut off all his hair–and experienced life (for a short period of time) as a Black Man in the segregated south in the 1960s. James Whitmore starred in the movie.

    BTW, Mr. Griffin was not castigated for choosing to experience life as a Black Man–to choose to suffer the pain, to choose to suffer the discrimination, to choose to suffer the stereotypes associated with being Black. Unfortunately, Ms. Dolezal’s decision to experience life as a Black Woman is not being considered as anything but “she doesn’t really know how it feels” and “she cannot choose to experience the life that Black People are born into.”

  4. I am not as up on this story as some but I am fascinated to find out if this is simple mental illness, simple fraud, she saw an angle, or if she really thinks she is black, as in, I was born white but I always knew I was black, kind of thing.
    By the way, I am going to state now for the record, though I was born with the last name White and love my parents who are now deceased, I have always identified with Warren Buffett as my father and hopefully he, and the world, will soon accept this and welcome me to the family. Call me daddy.
    I also have always identified with myself as a man that should only date the most beautiful women, models, women that could be models, women that used to be models, and the sooner you accept this and start dating me, the better. Just accept it ladies, do not fight it, I was born this way, but I need your help to be who I really am, I am your chance to do the right thing, do not let me down.

  5. Machiavelli says:

    Oh my god…I can not believe they are thinking of making a film of this woman.

  6. Michael Schroeder says:

    COMING NEXT SUMMER – Director Michael Bay brings a story the is too big for the small screen – TRANS-RACIAL: More than meets the eye

  7. cadavra says:

    Isn’t this just the Michael Jackson story in reverse? :-D

  8. malcolm says:

    “the family that ultimately turned on her” what nonsense they could have outed her years ago but didn’t say anything it was only when a reporter asked them that they refused to lie and say they weren’t her parents …that’s not turning on her

  9. skyeknightdent says:

    I’m sure the officials at the university she teaches at are considering firing her for violation of its faculty ethics agreement. Every faculty member signs one along with one’s contract. The only roadblock could be that students probably are considering suing for some of their tuition money back. And getting that money back will be easier if the university openly admits that she was wrong. Here is her bio on her university site. http://www.ewu.edu/csbssw/programs/africana-studies-program/aep-faculty/rachel-dolezal. It doesn’t say she is black, but does give that impression.

    • Machiavelli says:

      Wow….she really has achieved a lot but why does she hate being white….and prefer to be Black…. A good person is just that ..race does not matter…

  10. steve barr says:

    Catelyn Jenner could play Rachel .

  11. Holycrapbatman says:

    Nope, she is a lunatic. She should be tried for fraud and jailed. She filled out Federal Grant applications for Howard University falsely that is fraud. Statute of limitations does not start until the crime is discovered by authorities.

    • Holycrapbatman says:

      NAACP may not care, but she received my tax dollars to scam us, so off to jail she goes.

      • JR says:

        Politicians do that every day see Millions and millions wasted on the TPP, it costs money to draft and research legislation. Staff salaries are not low wage. How do you know what her psychological profile is?

  12. Zelfa says:

    If this is made into a movie, I am only watching Bollywood movies.

  13. Davyjc says:

    Really well written. This is a story that could be made into a film, a film that could be treated in many different ways. Good analysis.

  14. Tony says:

    The story of a poor black girl born into a white body. She never felt comfortable in her skin until she “transitioned” and began living life as a black woman.

  15. skyeknightdent says:

    The good news is that because the story has been written about so much in the legitimate news media, a producer does not need to buy the rights from her or anyone. Remember the film based on the Stuart case in Boston was based on news stories. The man who killed his wife, dumped her in Roxbury, and pretended she was killed by black people, never saw a dime. It would be tragic if this woman were to profit from this ruse, an insult to all black people who have had to suffer through what she pretended to personally endure.

  16. srvwp2013 says:

    There must be much more important things in my life — like fixing holes where rain gets in, than being “captivated” as you put it, by Rachel Dolezal. When I saw the headline, I said to myself, “Who the Hell is Rachel Dolezal!?” “Variety” and its fellow media do not dictate or pronounce what is important in American life. “Variety” and its peers are just tabloid hucksters.

  17. Alex says:

    I don’t think there will be a movie, but there are members of the Hollywood left who are defending this fraud because they think they’re suppose to…and catching Hell for it. They’re learning that many people black and white want this woman to go away, and defending her makes you look stupid.

    • Bill B. says:

      Oh, it’ll be some kind of movie. In case you haven’t noticed by the biggest box office hits, Hollywood is in dire need of original stories and this is at least that.

  18. daphne says:

    I hereby copyright the title, “Black Like She.” Thank you so much.

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