A recent Deadline article shared the news about a forthcoming television show: Albert Einstein “Warts and All”: Ron Howard On His NatGeo Series ‘Genius’ – Contenders Emmys. The article begins by describing director Ron Howard’s search for, what was to him, a satisfying depiction of Albert Einstein for a visual medium:
Over the years when filmmaker Ron Howard read treatments on Albert Einstein, he never felt the character was reflected completely for a two-hour movie.
As I read the article, a number of statements jumped out at me. Taken together, they imply that one of the main reasons screenwriter Noah Pink’s approach possibly appealed to Howard was its depiction of Einstein as some sort of sex god:
* “said Howard in that it portrayed the burgeoning scientist and his younger libido.”
* “he was free thinking, a Bohemian”
* “He loved women”
* “earned his doctorate while pursuing women”
Wow, that’s a lot of focus on Einstein’s sex life. Ooh, how salacious! How naughty! How very innovative to put Einstein, his cock, and sex in the same story!
“What was the most enticing was diving into aspects of the Einstein you didn’t know,” said Howard
Hmm, I thought Einstein’s active sex life was a pretty well known fact? Frankly, I’m surprised no one thought about including it in an Einstein biopic before now. Funny how that detail was what nabbed Ron Howard’s attention—as well as his time and company’s money.
I’m all for a “warts and all” approach to historical figures like Einstein and sure, throw in some sex because scientists are human, too (a fact about which many sci-fi romance authors are well aware, heh), but this particular interpretation of Albert Einstein’s life reeks of exploitation of the story’s female characters. The article seems to promise them as young, nubile receptacles for Einstein’s penis. So, um, yay for the show’s cishet male audience? Are female viewers supposed to, I don’t know, view Einstein as this virile lover with super genius semen? Are we supposed to fantasize about him making love to us? Or were we as an audience even considered at all in the story’s development phase?
Given that the article (and, I’m guessing, Ron Howard) took pains to point out that part of the story focuses squarely on Einstein’s “libido” I have zero expectations that Einstein’s sexual adventures will be treated with much nuance or that his lovers will have any kind of agency in the story. In fact, there seems to be a heavy implication that they’ll be reduced to their sex appeal because gosh darn it, a brilliant man like him has insatiable carnal needs. Naturally, this aspect of his life demands star treatment amirite?!
One of the promotional trailers even has a montage of Einstein having sex: “Albert Einstein was many things, but monogamous was not one of them.”
If a similar approach (a big “if”) was taken for a non-monogamous female scientist, would there be an equivalent strong sense of interest and celebration behind it? Even if such a story refrained from shaming her for being sexually active, would viewers?
Even if it’s true that Einstein rogered like a rabbit, the problem isn’t with this particular movie. The problem is the overall pattern it helps perpetuate about whose stories get to be told as well as which ones are given the vast marketing support of major Hollywood corporate entities.
For one thing, we rarely get movies or shows about the lives of historical female scientists, especially from powerhouse companies like Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment. For another, even if such stories were filmed on a regular basis, it’s highly unlikely said female scientist characters would be portrayed as having active, robust sex lives. Given who currently holds the reins of power in Hollywood, I can’t imagine a similar movie made about, say, Marie Curie.
Or about scientist Gabrielle-Emilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil (pictured at the top of this post). Check out this little nugget about her life:
…the daughter of the French court’s chief of protocol, [she] married the marquis du Chatelet in 1725. She lived the life of a courtier and bore three children. But at age 27, she began studying mathematics seriously and then branched into physics. This interest intensified as she began an affair with the philosopher Voltaire, who also had a love of science.
A forbidden romance and a hot, lusty affair?! That’s a movie waiting to happen if there ever was one. I would love to see her life portrayed in a movie (especially by an all-female filmmaker team and told through the female gaze). Sex sells, so why hasn’t anyone given this project the green light?
Or how about a biopic covering the life of Marie Maynard Daly? She was the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry. Or Patricia Bath, the “the first African-American woman doctor to receive a patent for a medical purpose.” Both women married and it would be incredibly easy to spice up their biopics with lots of romance and the hot sex both woman undoubtedly had while achieving scientific greatness right and left.
I can hear some of you now, wanting to point out that none of the above women are as famous as Einstein. Correct, but we all know why: history routinely glosses over the existence of female scientists, so they rarely have a chance to become famous. So that’s another problem on top of many others when it comes to the representation of female scientists in film and television. Hollywood only wants to focus on famous historical figures, and if our culture doesn’t boost others up through various means, then they don’t receive the movies and television treatments. The cycle perpetuates itself.
Regardless, there’s absolutely no inherent reason that more TV shows and films can’t focus on “warts and all” portrayals of female scientists, including their horny sides. If there are going to be movies about scientists having sex, I want ones that not only feature female scientists front and center, but also ones wherein they take charge of their sex lives and enjoy making love. Those are the films that will get this female viewer’s money and time. And I’ll wait for them as long as it takes.