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Before Julianne Moore – portraying the late Laurel Hester, a police detective diagnosed with cancer – fights government officials for equal treatment regarding pensions in Freeheld, she struggles to come out to her cohorts at her homophobic workplace.
“Laurel’s workplace was completely intolerant,” director Peter Sollett told The Hollywood Reporter at Monday’s screening, held at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. The film shows that Hester, a skilled and devout officer in New Jersey for 23 years, eyed a lieutenant ranking and opted to keep her sexual orientation private to be put on the force’s top cases. “The sexism was so pervasive there that she was not being given a fair shake to begin with, and then when she came out, it just exacerbated the situation. That further illustrates how much was at stake when she did come out.”
So can the Lionsgate film – which is equal parts love story and civil rights drama – encourage those who are afraid to come out to their own co-workers? The stars said it would be irresponsible to answer with a generalization.
“I’ve never experienced what Laurel did, but it’s not that simple,” explained Ellen Page, who plays Hester’s life partner Stacie Andree, who was denied her pension benefits. “It could be general bullying in the office, to getting fired – there are many states in America where you can be fired for being gay or trains or bi…. There are countries in the world where there are no anti-discrimination laws for people at all, and what is someone gonna do if they can’t get a job because they’re gay? Every situation is different and personal. Some people can come out and face horrific violence.”
Moore hopes another effect results. “What’s important is to empathize with people in that situation, to think about what that must feel like, how difficult it must be,” she said before the screening, which was followed by an after-party at Omar’s in Greenwich Village. “Hopefully people can open their eyes to the people who are struggling around them and offer their support.”
Michael Shannon, who portrays Hester’s longtime partner on the police force, did offer a word of encouragement to those in crossroads similar to what his character, Dane Wells, faced as he rallied steadfastly for Hester’s cause.
“I think it’s important to follow your heart if you think something is unfair,” he told THR. “It’s easy to get discouraged and think you can’t make a difference. Fight against that instinct. Go and push forward, no matter what.”
Freeheld hits theaters Oct. 2.
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