“I Am Sam” director Jessie Nelson is opening up about the movie 20 years after its release in 2001.
Nelson tells The Hollywood Reporter that she wouldn’t make the film, which starred Sean Penn as the lead, like that in 2021. The movie also featured Michelle Pfeiffer, Laura Dern and Dakota Fanning.
A synopsis reads, “Sam, a man with special needs, fights for the custody of his daughter when her mother abandons them. He tries to prove that he is a capable father with the help of an infamous lawyer.”
“I wouldn’t make that movie today without a lead being from the [disability] community,” Nelson tells the publication.
“But that movie would not have been made 20 years ago. It wasn’t like I had the choice: ‘Make that movie with a lead from the community, or not.’ It was ‘The only way this movie will get made is this.’”
Nelson explains how she was dropped from the flick by one studio that wanted a bigger star for the lead.
Despite insisting she had nothing but praise for Penn’s “undeniably beautiful” portrayal of the character, Nelson adds: “At that time, they would not allow me to hire a real disabled actor to play the role.
“They were afraid to put a budget of that size on the shoulders of an actor from that community.”
The movie-maker admits, “It was such a battle even to just get the friends of Sean to be from the disabled community in the movie, and that was such a victory at the time to be able to hire those actors.”
The film ended up nabbing Penn an Oscar nomination and earning the actor and Fanning SAG Awards for their performances.
Although the film was successful, the offers weren’t piling in for Nelson after its release. She didn’t direct another movie until 2015’s “Love the Coopers”.
“The door did not open for me,” she goes on. “Now, when you look at the statistics, so many women have had the experience that I’ve had, where they couldn’t get their next movie made. At the time, you think, ‘Is it something about me?’ Or, ‘Oh, doing a movie that wasn’t successful, that’s what puts people in directors’ jail.’ But for so many women at the time, it was just being a woman that put you in a different category.”