Participant Media’s Jonathan King On ‘A Fantastic Woman’ & Continued Impact

Sony Pictures Classics

EXCLUSIVE: Sebastian Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman scored a first win for Chile with the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar last week. It was also the first win for Participant Media within its relationship with the talent behind the multi-layered pic. And, it ticks yet another box in Participant’s bid to make entertainment that inspires social change.

At the Oscars ceremony, A Fantastic Woman star Daniela Vega — who plays Marina, a transgender waitress and singer who is forced to confront suspicion and contempt after the death of her older lover — became the first openly transgender person to ever act as a presenter. She and the film also have a hand in potentially effecting social change at home, bringing a wider spotlight to a bill that would give transgender Chileans the right to change their name and gender ID in official documents.

Chile’s Michelle Bachelet, whose presidential term ended yesterday, called on lawmakers to continue making headway even as conservative billionaire Sebastian Pinera took office for the second time. Piñera, the New York Times notes, has extended an olive branch, vowing to support passage of the bill. It will remain to be seen what happens, but Participant President of Narrative Film & TV, and an exec producer on Fantastic Woman, Jonathan King, points out that Participant’s “whole reason for being” is to see such a call to action. “By supporting artists whose films are first and foremost works of art, but that could potentially change something in the world, that’s incredible. It doesn’t happen all that often to change hearts and minds and then policy change follows.”

The Jeff Skoll-backed Participant, which partially financed A Fantastic Woman, has previously worked with A Fantastic Woman‘s Chilean production outfit Fabula, run by brothers Juan de Dios and Pablo Larrain, scoring an Oscar nomination with Jackie helmer Pablo’s 2012 No. That was the first time Participant financed a movie not in English and worked with a film that wasn’t American. The companies also partnered on Larrain’s 2016 Neruda which was Chile’s entry for the FL Oscar that year. He produced A Fantastic Woman, creating a nice dovetail this year with the win for longtime collaborator Lelio’s story of Marina.

Notably, says King of Fantastic Woman, which Sony Pictures Classics acquired in Berlin 2017, the movie truly engaged with audiences. He notes that the new ways young people consume media have opened up possibilities. “Multi-tasking younger audiences will read subtitles and a lot of people speak Spanish and want to see stories that are not the same old thing.” In A Fantastic Woman, “Marina’s experience is as interesting to them as something they could see about their hometown. They can relate to a character and the mode of consumption has evolved in a way that makes them a bit more accessible.”

Vega was initially a consultant on A Fantastic Woman, working with Lelio who ultimately could see no one else in the role of Marina. He has called Vega an inspiration. And even though he didn’t set out to make a so-called “cause” film, he has told me at the movie’s center “is a real beating heart, Daniela’s heart. It is a portrait of a real transgender woman, so it’s undeniable that dimension of the film is crucial.”

Lelio has been remaking his own stunner from 2013, Gloria, in English — the original was the film that inspired Participant to team with the filmmaker. Among the next Spanish-language projects for Participant is Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, a story that chronicles a year in the life of a middle-class family in Mexico City in the early 1970s.

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