‘White Girl’ Filmmaker Addresses Controversy Surrounding Her First Feature

Film director Elizabeth Wood is probably the person you’d want to be seated next to at a dinner party.

Wood’s first feature film, “White Girl,” is loosely based on her experience as New York college freshman who hooked up with drug dealer, who is then arrested. She, in turn, sells his stash of cocaine to fund his release. The movie recently screened at Sundance’s NextFest in Los Angeles and will launch in U.S. theaters on Sept. 2.

The film spends a significant amount of screentime dealing with drugs and sexual encounters, and has frequently been compared to the controversial ‘90s’ flick, “Kids,” which Wood will acknowledge was “influential,” but a “different flavor of film.”

“It’s not my biopic, this is very much fiction,” Wood tells me. “But it was a very personal story and while it was happening, I knew that it would be my first feature film.”

Of course, Wood had the task of figuring out how someone makes a first feature. She was studying fiction writing and making experimental films when, on a whim, she applied to Columbia’s screenwriting program and won a fellowship.

“I went, and I wanted to drop out every second,” she recalls. “I hated it, it was so hard. But it was over quickly and it was so good for me. It was supposed to be hard. I came out with my film ready to make.”

Through a series of connections, Wood landed a meeting with “Kids” producer Christine Vachon. Wood was seven months pregnant at the time.

“Christine didn’t look at my belly and didn’t ask me about being pregnant,” Wood says. With Vachon on board, the production was able to piecemeal funding together from what Wood describes as “a ton of different investors.”

“I had to cut 20 pages in the last couple weeks to bring down the budget $200,000,” she says. “We said, ‘Let’s just make whatever version we possibly can.’”

Hours after the film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, Variety published a review questioning if the film’s overt sexuality was simply a way for Wood to compete in the “male-dominated film industry.”

“Had it come from a man, Wood’s nightmarish vision would no doubt have played more like fantasy, though there are plenty on the audience side who will take prurient interest in watching [Morgan] Saylor snort and screw her way out of her predicament, only to be slammed with the most cynical possible ending,” Variety Chief Film Critic Peter Debruge wrote.

“Sadly,” he continued, “‘White Girl’ is hardly the lone example of a director — guy or girl, white or otherwise — dredging up the most sordid conceivable material in an effort to penetrate the hyper-competitive, male-dominated film industry.”

For Wood, the review gave her a chuckle and she says it has actually prompted some healthy discussion.

“He published it at 3 a.m. with typos,” she laughs. “It clearly pushed a button with him, which was certainly better than if he thought it was boring. It actually was a blessing in disguise because it led to a lot of people afterwards discussing what he said about the film … For him, it pushed some sexual buttons, probably a very personal issue for him.”

Wood feels her film is more of a mediation on gender, race and gentrification and believes sexuality is the least complicated issue.

“I’ve been surprised and encouraged by how many women have come up to me of all ages and backgrounds and whispered to me that they were so glad to see representation of female sexuality that they felt like they could never really share, the kinds of things that had happened that you’re not really allowed to talk about,” she says. “I disagree that it’s for shock value. I think it’s fairly authentic to many female experiences.”