This week, Deadline announced that filmmaker Roger Kumble is directing an adaptation of the novel Beautiful Disaster, which will star Dylan Sprouse and Virginia Gardner. The film is described by the site as a college romance between freshman Abby and ‘bad-boy Travis.’ It seems pretty innocuous if you’re not familiar with the book. For people like me, it was a little more complicated.
As some of you may well know, once upon a time, I was a book blogger. I cut my teeth in the post-Twilight era of young adult fiction, so I have, to put it politely, seen some sh*t. Oh, you thought the Bad Art Friend drama was weird? The things I have seen, my friends… Around the time that Fifty Shades of Grey became a terrifying and unstoppable juggernaut, a new subgenre called New Adult fiction began to take shape. It was intended to be a stopgap between YA and adult fiction, mostly focused on college-age stories that explored the liminal space between adolescence and the ‘real’ adult world. In execution, however, it was mostly college romances with lots of sex. A lot of these books were, to use that word we all fear now, problematic.
The biggest mess of them all was Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire. I’ve read a lot of misogynistic garbage and this was the absolute worst one. The ‘hero’ Travis is a callous, manipulative, and abusive bully. He essentially tricks the heroine into living in his apartment for a month Every woman is a ‘bimbo’ or ‘STD-ridden imbecile’ except for the heroine. Travis gets violent and jealous at the drop of a hat, is prone to randomly smashing things, and punches a man for touching Abby’s arm. He even comes very close to punching Abby. Beautiful Disaster makes Christian Grey seem like Judith Butler. So, of course it was a huge hit. Look, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool romance lover and I totally get the appeal of a classic alpha romance, but this wasn’t that. It was a checklist of warning signs disguised as ‘every woman’s dream.’ Why adapt this now, of all things?
And then there’s McGuire herself. She’s a big stonking racist!
Even before it was public knowledge that McGuire was an anti-vaxxer bigot who supported the Capitol attacks, her reputation in the book blogging world was garbage. Nobody in my old circle was surprised to hear that she was sharing videos of Candace Owens slandering the late Ahmaud Arbery, who was chased and murdered by two men while out jogging, or that she was playing ‘devil’s advocate’ after George Floyd was murdered.
(For the full mess, check out the extensive documentation by the wonderful Jenny Trout on her blog.)
And of course she’s an anti-vaxxer, and this was way before COVID. ‘Until you can prove vaccines do not cause DNA mutations, I do not consent’, she wrote on Facebook.
She’s the kind of numbskull bigot who does things like tweet that Antifa and Black Lives Matter are ‘violence, racist, extremist domestic terrorist organization[s]’ comparable to the KKK. She claims that white guilt ‘is a blatant product of leftist media’s conditioning of the American people’ and that she would riot on behalf of her kids. She also hates fat people, because of course she does. AND she’s a J.K. Rowling supporting transphobe because OF COURSE SHE IS.
And yes, she supported the Capitol attack. She was really big on supporting an act of literal treachery. She called the thugs ‘patriots’ who ‘will fight against fraud and tyranny for ‘the beginning of a new civil war.’
#BeautifulDisaster author Jamie McGuire on Jan 6, 2021: "Are you all watching the Live Feeds? This is just the beginning. patriots will fight against fraud and tyranny. We might be looking at the beginning of a new civil war." pic.twitter.com/7Df8QWoZPn— Raimey Gallant (@raimeygallant) October 25, 2021
It took until August of 2020 for McGuire’s literary agents to drop her, mostly because it became too publicly difficult to ignore years of evidence and their client’s own words.
I have absolutely no hope in a system that made McGuire a major hit, threw money at her, then continued to turn a blind eye to her racism until it was too embarrassing to play ignorant. It’s not just publishers and agents, of course. I know PLENTY of bloggers who ignored the furor so they didn’t have to worry about their fave being problematic. Many authors spent YEARS sucking up to McGuire, the big name in town, when it was financially convenient for them to do so. So many discussions of the misogyny and rape culture in her books were mocked as ‘jealous hater talk’ while concerns about her abject racism were sneered at as attacking poor ickle conservatives. This rot was allowed to continue for years. I know, I was there.
But you would at least hope that ‘not giving money to people who supported insurrectionist traitors who wanted to kill sitting politicians’ would be the bare minimum display of decency from the entertainment world. We ask for so little. And yet here we are.
It’s also a staggering lack of understanding towards the romance community who they are clearly hoping to pander to. Beautiful Disaster is clearly getting made because those After films, based on literal self-insert/Harry Styles fanfiction’ do solid business, but the romance world has long moved on from such titles. It took us way too long for the film and TV world to realize how creative and profitable the romance genre could be, then they finally wise up and pick the book by the white nationalist hack?! I’m not surprised, I’m just f**king exhausted.
I could be here all day recommending romance novels that don’t fetishize and abuse and were not written by Proud Boy supporters that would make great films. It’s literally the easiest thing in the world. Seriously, ten seconds on Goodreads, executives. Give it a go.