On July 5, 2020, Antioch MFA alum Bettina Gilois, who was battling cancer, died in her sleep at her home in Los Angeles. Part of the Zephyr class of 2016, her mentor and friend, Antioch Fiction Faculty Alistair McCartney joins those who knew her in remembering Gilois’s “shining presence” and “wicked sense of humor.” Gilois is survived by her son, Caliber, and her daughter, Shiloh.
With an art history degree from Barnard College, Gilois began her career in film as the assistant to director Slava Tsukerman on Liquid Sky, a 1982 arthouse film inspired by German Expressionism, in particular the work of Bertolt Brecht, which would go on to become a cult-classic. From there, Gilois went on to work with Andy Warhol on his TV series, Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes, which aired on MTV from 1985 to 1987. These, her artistic beginnings, would stay central to her creative practice, both on the page as a novelist and cultural critic, and in her work as a writer for Hollywood’s silver screen. All three of her novels will be made into movies.
In an article for Huffington Post on the photography of Andy Summers, we get a glimpse of Gilois’ artistic ethos: “The artist must find his instrument, to express that which is inside of him. Yet long before the instrument, there is the drive inside. The instrument is the tool of transformation from an internal emotion to the external symbolic expression of that emotion, which we experience as art. And art, in turn, elicits emotion. There is an alchemical process at the root of all art, an emotion fueling creation.”
The emotion that drove Gilois is evident in everything she wrote, as seen in her feature films that told stories of art and sport as seen through a social justice lens. Gilois co-wrote the HBO movie Bessie, the story of blues singer Bessie Smith as played by Queen Latifa, for which Gilois and her team won an Emmy nomination, a Black Reel Award, and two NCAAP Image Awards. She also co-wrote Disney’s Glory Road, based on the true story of Texas Western’s men’s basketball coach Dan Haskins who coached the NCAA’s first all-Black starting lineup that went on to win the 1966 Championship. Also to her credit are the films: McFarland, USA and The Man From Muscle Shoals: My Journey From Shame to Fame, forthcoming in 2020 on Lifetime.
German-American, Gilois’s creative work was always infused with a curiosity for the betwixt as inroad to the beyond. In her essay “Running to Paradise,” she juxtaposes Berlin and Los Angeles, “both opposites and the same.” She concedes that this stereoscopic identity is a recipe for chaos, but doesn’t shy away. Rather, she embraces duality: “As Anais Nin said, ‘In chaos, there is fertility.’ Out of the cosmic chaos of their contradictions, Los Angeles and Berlin give birth to a new freedom of creative expression. And therein lies their brilliant reversals of fortune: taking the artist on a departure … from exodus to genesis.”
July 9, 1961 to July 5, 2020