Tuesday, January 14, 2014

ROLL HOLLYWOOD ROLL


Hollywood’s self-reverential collective social consciousness obviously left the room at the annual Golden Globe Awards. Three of this year’s awardees might have taken a moment to reflect on the content of their triumphant film work in order to enlighten the 19.7 million viewers of the ceremony. Oh, I forgot, this is entertainment, not politics.

When will I ever learn? Never—hear me?—never.

In accepting his Oscar for Philadelphia in 1993 (virtually the only mainstream “AIDS movie” ever made at that juncture), Best Actor Tom Hanks first acknowledged the issue of gayness by naming two gay men in his life “because they are two of the finest gay Americans, two wonderful men that I had the good fortune to be associated with, to fall under their inspiration at such a young age. I wish my babies could have the same sort of teacher, the same sort of friends.”

Mr. Hanks then went on to eloquently tackle the subject of AIDS: “I know that my work in this case is magnified by the fact that the streets of heaven are too crowded with angels. We know their names. They number a thousand for each one of the red ribbons that we wear here tonight. They finally rest in the warm embrace of the gracious creator of us all. A healing embrace that cools their fevers, that clears their skin, and allows their eyes to see the simple, self-evident, common sense truth that is made manifest by the benevolent creator of us all and was written down on paper by wise men, tolerant men, in the city of Philadelphia two hundred years ago.”

Twenty years later, Hollywood honors Matthew McConaughey for his performance in Dallas Buyers Club, portraying Ron Woodroof, an HIV-positive infected heterosexual who smuggles anti-viral medications into America and makes a business of his procurements. Might McConaughey have mentioned the “A” word? (And I don’t mean “acting.”) Oh, sorry, I keep forgetting that AIDS is over; AIDS is so yesterday; AIDS is so gay.

What AIDS continues to be is a disease that kills millions of people worldwide, many of whom—even in America, honey, even in Hollywood, darling—have no access to antiretroviral meds. Nearly one-third of those infected with HIV in America are unable to get life-saving drugs (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/social-issues/endgame-aids-in-black-america/why-some-with-hiv-still-cant-get-treatment/).
The numbers is Sub-Saharan Africa stagger: well into Twenty-First Century, more than half of the millions of individuals infected with AIDS live in Africa with far less access to antiretrovirals than Americans, as the number of AIDS orphans continues to mount. But why should McConaughey mention any of that when he can reference one of his former films, Dazed and Confused?

And Jared Leto, also a Golden Globe winner—for his role as a meth-addicted transsexual with HIV in Dallas Buyers Club—used his acceptance speech to reference his butt rather than give a nod to the valiant community of transsexuals who are routinely bullied, and sometimes even murdered, for simply being who they are. Thanking transsexuals for “inspiration” is not enough, Mr. Leto.

Oh, and did I mention that both Mr. McConaughey and Mr. Leto lost tons of weight to play their roles? Lucky for them, they can gain the weight back. Oh, I should stop being so snarky—actors aren’t spokespeople for causes, for Chrissake. Actors talk about their asses.

Oh, and then there’s Michael Douglas’ win for playing Liberace, a tragic victim of both Hollywood homophobia and AIDS, in Behind the Candelabra. Mr.Douglas chose to keep any mention of AIDS behind the candelabra in his acceptance speech; he did, refreshingly, mention “sequins” and “mincing.” Silence, Mr. Douglas, still equals death.

Oh, yah, Liberace was from another era, and everyone “knew” he was gay, so what’s the big deal? Hmmm. Well, last time I checked, there is a Liberace type who also makes frequent glittering appearances in Las Vegas and is emphatically in the closet.

And if we’re to believe that AIDS has finished targeting celebrities, think again. Besides, Mr. Douglas is speaking to an international audience where any mention of AIDS would be potentially constructive. But the Golden Globes are all about getting drunk; not getting serious.

Referring to Mr. Leto and Mr. Douglas, J Bryan Lowder of Slate writes: “Moreover, it cannot be lost on them that some significant percentage of the recognition these films—and by extension, they—are enjoying is due to the accrual of liberal cred, queer people being the current favored minority of the left. It’s jarring, then, to witness people who are in no small part on stage because they were, in a professional sense, lucky enough to play a femme gay man or transgender woman—real figures whose existences in this world remain very precarious—treat those roles like a little light-hearted drag, easily accomplished with a day at the spa or a bit of studied lightness in one’s loafers.”

That Mr. Lowder must be a real party pooper.

I can’t go without mentioning that it was my nineteen-year old African-American daughter who alerted me to the insensitivities from those particular Golden Globes awardees. She also pointed to the exigencies to make the black experience manifest in film. Undoubtedly, those winners will use their precious speeches to reference their offscreen trials and tribulations.

Steve McQueen, the brilliant director of 12 Years A Slave, which won the Golden Globe for Best Picture, referenced “Roll Jordan Roll” in his acceptance speech. The John Legend song, written for the movie, is inspired by Eugene D.Genovese’s book of the same title: a testament to the human spirit that shows how slaves forced their owners to acknowledge their humanity through culture, music, and religion.

My nineteen-year old sees the connective tissue that binds all persecuted minorities. But she is a teenager and should be unconsciously partying—like those actors at the Golden Globes.


Roll Hollywood Roll.

2 comments:

  1. Elizabeth Taylor, if alive today would be a voice along with Michael Kearns; I can assure you of that. Thank you Michael (and daughter) for not sitting idle or silent. It is said that as humans "we evolve" and I think that this notable blog posting highlights that clearly sometimes...we devolve.

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