Stella Maxwell
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How a Lesbian Power Couple Became Pioneers in Writing and Family Films

DREAMWORKS ANIMATION 2019

For over three decades, Suzanne Buirgy and Judy Wieder have been partners in love, life, and their creative endeavors — and have supported each other every step of the way. Both have had successful careers individually as well as having worked together on many projects over the years. So how did they do it?

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Above: Judy Wieder (left) and Suzanne Buirgy

Many know Wieder as The Advocate’s first female editor in chief, and the person who shared countless coming-out stories with the world. But in her recent memoir Random Events Tend to Cluster, she reveals intimate details from her fascinating life and multiple careers — which include time as a folk singer, disco hit songwriter, and hair band journalist. The book also depicts the tumultuous historical events that serve as the backdrop to Wieder’s life: the Vietnam War, the AIDS epidemic, and 9/11.

Though Wieder and Buirgy met by making music together, Buirgy has also built an impressive 20-year career in filmmaking, specifically in animation and visual effects, and later as a producer. Her award-winning projects include How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda 2. Currently, Buirgy is serving as producer on Abominable, a co-production between DreamWorks Animation and China’s Pearl Studio. The story of a girl and her yeti (co-directed by Jill Culton and Todd Wilderman) is being touted as one of the most anticipated family films of the year, and premieres in late September.

“When I first met Judy I was in an all-girl band,” Buirgy recalls, “And Judy was one of the songwriters, so we began to write together. … We’ve been together — it’ll be 31 years — and you don’t spend that much time with someone and love someone that long who’s also a creative being without everything being colored by their input. Judy is an integral part of any creative life that I have, just because she’s in my DNA at this point. I think that’s kind of the most amazing thing about it.”

On being referred to as a lesbian power couple, Wieder says, “It’s fantastic. When I was the editor in chief of The Advocate … we wrote about Ellen DeGeneres with Anne Heche, which was such a big deal then, and how they were influencing people — just because they were out, and they were a big deal, and that hadn’t happened before. All the couples before them were closeted! The visibility wasn’t there at all.”

It’s a sign of the times that DeGeneres remains one half of a power couple (she’s now married to actress Portia de Rossi), but has far more actual “power” than when Wieder first covered her in The Advocate. Now Wieder and Buirgy are themselves part of a growing number of out lesbian couples wielding significant influence and serving as role models to young LGBTQ couples who, Wieder says, are themselves “spreading this good feeling by being together, by being able to be married today, by sharing all the things that people who love each other and support each other can finally do, despite some of the threats that we feel are going on.”

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After playing such an integral part in the coming out of queer celebrities in the ’90s, Wieder admits she thought things would have progressed further in terms of LGBTQ acceptance. Still, she points to recent far-right backlash as a sign of how far we’ve come.

“I’m kind of amazed that it’s still going on and people are still struggling with things that are just wrong,” says Wieder. “I think it’s part of what happens when visibility and [the ways] that we identify ourselves — which is expanded greatly today — start to happen, it starts to be very threatening to other people … whether it’s taking away some white supremacy they assumed they would always have [or] their heterosexuality, whatever they thought was their power. It isn’t. And it’s becoming clear that it isn’t, so they have to make war on it to hold on to their power. And that is ultimately happening because of our progress. Not because of weakness. But because of the strength of our progress — it’s just that we have to be prepared for the fact that not everybody’s happy about it.”

That said, Buirgy adds working with DreamWorks has been great in terms of representation and diversity among the talent and behind the scenes. “We have a really eclectic crew that’s made up of queer folk, lots of women, lots of people of color, just an incredible mix,” she says. “And that was super important to me to put together a group like that. … Quite frankly, we have the best people at DreamWorks.”

Abominable also features the voices of some notable LGBTQ actors, including Sarah Paulson and Eddie Izzard.

“Of course with Eddie Izzard,” says Buirgy, brightening at the mention of his name, “everyone at work is just completely in love with him! I really, like, become an idiot because you just say over and over, ‘Oh, my God, you’re such a role model, and everyone is just so indebted to you for what you did!’ And he’s so lovely and hilarious, and in the movie he really just embodies this character so much that we forget who he is.”

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Abominable owes much to director Jill Culton, who also wrote the original script and fought to get the film made. Culton, who became the first female director of a big-budget, computer-animated feature with Open Season, also cowrote the hit Monsters, Inc.

“The female protagonist [in Abominable], that was Jill Culton’s, the director’s vision,” Buirgy says. “And the movie has had such an interesting journey. It’s almost as arduous and emotional and hilarious as the journey that the kids take in the film with the yeti. …  But [Culton] always envisioned this strong young woman and just like a kick-ass girl — not a girly-girl, you know, a tomboy — an independent, strong girl. So that’s where the movie evolved from.”

As for Wieder (who responds to questions about retirement by saying, “I’m not really a chillin’ kind of person — I wish I was!”), she says next, “I’m thinking through another book. I’m all over the place about that, but I do want to continue writing no matter what. I want to do more things that might stimulate myself and possibly other people. … I think that’s just one of the ways that we are unique as people.”

She and Buirgy are particularly talented at conveying compelling stories that inspire others. “And right now more than ever, we need to make sure we keep the communication really clear,” Wieder concludes. And for her, “writing does that — because it clears up your own thoughts and it allows you to communicate them to other people who may, or may not, need them very badly.”

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