Actor and director Ethan Hawke joined Fordham’s Angela O’Donnell and David Gibson at a May 3 private screening of Wildcat, a movie about Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor directed by Hawke and starring his daughter, Maya Hawke. 

In a Q&A after the screening, attended by 300 people at a Manhattan movie theater, Ethan Hawke said it was an “absolute honor” to be with O’Donnell and thanked her for writing her book Radical Ambivalence: Race in Flannery O’Connor (Fordham University Press, 2020), which deepened his understanding of the writer.

The film follows the life of O’Connor, who is celebrated for short stories such as those in Everything That Rises Must Converge (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1965) but also criticized for her views on race.

Fordham has been a center of research and events related to O’Connor’s work since 2018, when the writer’s estate granted $450,000 for an endowment at Fordham’s Curran Center for American Catholic Studies, where O’Donnell is the associate director.

About 300 people attended the screening and a Q&A that followed. Photo by Leo Sorel

A Writer’s Complexities

Although his mother had introduced him to O’Connor when he was a child, Hawke said, reading Radical Ambivalence helped him better understand how complex a person O’Connor was. He mentioned the book in an essay he wrote for Variety explaining why he and Maya ultimately decided to go forward with the film.

“I’m just so grateful for your time and for your enthusiasm and open-mindedness,” he said of O’Donnell’s writings on O’Connor. “I can’t imagine knowing as much as you know about Flannery. I have to bottle it into an hour and a half.”

O’Donnell said the Variety article was the first time she learned that Hawke had read her book, and said she was deeply moved by the film. 

“When I wrote the book, I was hoping that it was going to be useful to people in some way and not just something that academics would read,” she said. 

Hawke credited Maya with pushing the film to completion and suggested that O’Connor’s faith, coupled with her unflinching exploration of the way religion and morality sometimes collide in horrific ways, makes her appealing to a generation that is otherwise turning away from organized religion.

“A lot of people are scared to talk about faith. If we were all at Thanksgiving dinner together and I said, ‘Hey, can we talk about God?’ about half of you would go to the bathroom because you’re worried people are going to have an agenda,” he said.

“What I try to do with the movie is model Ms. O’Connor, which is that she’s not trying to convince you to believe anything. She’s trying to be a good artist and present something for you.”


Patrick Verel is a news producer for Fordham Now. He can be reached at [email protected] or (212) 636-7790.