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Stage icon Patti LuPone relishes new role in Ryan Murphy’s ‘Hollywood’

It’s the Tinseltown that might have been in star-studded new Netflix series out May 1

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Patti LuPone, gay news, Washington Blade

Patti LuPone (left) and the cast of ‘Hollywood,” out today on Netflix. (Photo courtesy Netflix)

For award-winning actress and fierce LGBTQ ally Patti LuPone it all starts with the costume.

“I love costumes,” she says. “I love to wear them and I love to use them. I’ve been very fortunate in my career that I’ve had incredible costumes on my body.”

In fact, the legendary chanteuse says that costume fittings are an essential part of her rehearsal process.

“A good costume designer can help you define character. It all starts with the shoes. They determine how the character walks.”

She says everything else flows from there.

Glamorous costumes certainly set the mood for LuPone’s current television project. She’s starring in “Hollywood,” the latest series from gay television mogul Ryan Murphy. She plays Avis Amberg, the unhappy wife of studio executive Ace Amberg. When Avis unexpectedly assumes control of Ace Studios, she turns Tinseltown on its head and greenlights the controversial movie “Meg.”

LuPone says the series asks the question “what if?” What if you could change history? What if things were done differently in Hollywood? What would it look like if women and people of color and members of the LGBTQ community could work openly and tell the stories they wanted to tell?

“It’s also a throwback to an extremely glamorous time in Hollywood with all of its gorgeousness and foibles,” LuPone says by phone. “I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say there is a happy ending.”

LuPone was of course thrilled at the chance to wear shimmering costumes from the Golden Age of Tinseltown.

“I get to look great,” she says. “When I went to the costume fittings I was in heaven. I was ravenous. When someone puts you in hats and gloves and furs and tailored clothes that are incredibly well-made you just behave differently. Sarah Evelyn did an extraordinary job with the costumes. There’s just stunning clothes for all of us.”

LuPone was especially excited that half of the costumes seen on screen were vintage.

“The workmanship was exquisite,” she says. “It’s amazing that these clothes are still wearable. Now there’s no quality control. You can buy a jacket for $10,000 and it falls apart on you.”

LuPone also says the excellent writing staff helped her slide into the character of Avis.

“I just fell into it,” she says. “I didn’t feel like I had to struggle with the part even though I’m not in any way like her. I’m not married to a studio head. I’m very happily married. I don’t have any of the concerns this woman had, but it felt very natural for me. When it’s good writing your job is done for you, and this is good writing.”

The iconoclastic LuPone, who just celebrated her 71st birthday, also appreciates that Avis is a rule-breaker who shatters traditional Hollywood stereotypes about older women.

“Avis has unbelievable freedom,” LuPone says.

Avis is proudly and forthrightly sexual and also supports other women instead of tearing them down.

For example, in her first moments onscreen, Avis hires the services of call boy/aspiring actor Jack Castello (David Corenswet) and the two enjoy a steamy tryst at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Later, Avis helps veteran studio executive Ellen Kincaid (Holland Taylor) break out of the romantic mire she’s stuck in and casts “over-the-hill” starlet Jeanne Crandall (Mira Sorvino) in a leading romantic role.

“Avis can break the norms because she’s in a powerful position,” LuPone says. “There’s nothing to hold her back. I had a ball playing her.”

All seven episodes of “Hollywood” drop on Netflix on Friday, May 1.

Meanwhile, Patti LuPone is waiting to get back on stage. She’s playing Joanne in the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” a transfer from London’s West End. Previews started on March 2, but the production was forced to shut down due to the COVID-19 crisis. Performances are planned to resume in June.

LuPone has played the role before (and the iconic number “The Ladies Who Lunch” has become one of her signature songs), but she notes that this time there’s a twist. The lead role, a sexually active 35-year-old bachelor, is now being played by a woman instead of a man. Bobby becomes Bobbie.

The change, she notes, makes the show much more poignant. It’s one thing, she says, for a single man to be “boinking” beautiful women, but there seems to be a problem when a middle-aged woman is sexually active and single. Bobbie’s not married and the clock is ticking and that’s a big problem for a woman.
LuPone also adds that the recasting of the lead role is not the only gender-bending change in this production.

“The characters Amy and Paul become Jamie and Paul, a homosexual couple. This fresh focus on gender expectations really sharpens the lines.”

In typical fashion, LuPone credits costume designer Bunny Christie with helping her define her character.

“I told director Marianne Elliott that there are four people in my big scene,” LuPone says. “Three actors and a coat. I had to wrangle the coat. It’s wonderful.”

LuPone began building her LGBTQ fan base with her Broadway debut in “Evita” (1979). On stage, she’s best known for her legendary musical theater performances (Fantine in “Les Misérables,” Mama Rose in “Gypsy,” Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd,” Reno Sweeney in “Anything Goes,” Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard,” Lucia in “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” and Helena Rubenstein in “War Paint”), but she’s also won acclaim for her starring role as Maria Callas in Terrence McNally’s “Master Class” and for her work with playwright David Mamet.

Notable film roles include “Witness” and “Driving Miss Daisy” and her early television work includes gritty roles as Libby Thatcher in “Life Goes On” and librarian Stella Coffa in the HBO prison drama “Oz.”

Given her love of exotic costumes and larger-than-life characters, LuPone has enjoyed taking on more flamboyant roles in recent years. In “Coven,” season three of Ryan Murphy’s “American Horror Story,” she played Joan Ramsey, a deeply religious housewife who made the mistake of moving next door to Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies. In Murphy’s “Pose,” she appeared as real estate tycoon Frederica Norman and got to sing the Stephen Sondheim anthem “I’m Still Here” at an AIDS cabaret.

She also appeared as both Dr. Florence Seward (season one) and hedge-witch Joan Clayton (season two) on “Penny Dreadful.”

The award-winning actress (two Tonys, two Grammys and two Olivier Awards to date) is also winning over a new generation of LGBTQ fans with her work on the queer-themed cartoon “Steven Universe.”

LuPone says she had never done voice-over work before, but jumped at the chance when series creator Rebecca Sugar asked her to join the cast. LuPone voiced the evil Yellow Diamond in the television series and the subsequent movie.

Like the rest of us, LuPone is trying to stay safe and sane during the COVID-19 crisis. She recently celebrated her birthday with a Zoom bingo game (and a lot of martinis) and has become an active presence on Twitter (@PattiLuPone), where she’s taken fans on a tour of her basement while dressed like silent screen star Norma Desmond.

With LuPone’s busy schedule, it’s “as if we never said goodbye.”

‘Hollywood’ sizzles

David Cornswet and Patti LuPone in ‘Hollywood.’ (Photo by Saeed Adyani; courtesy Netflix)

Expectations matter. If you binge-watch Ryan Murphy’s new Netflix limited series “Hollywood” this weekend (and you should) and expect to see the “revisionist history” they advertise, you’ll be disappointed.

But, if you tune in and expect to see a delicious escapist fantasy, then you’ll be in heaven. “Hollywood” is a frothy wish-fulfillment dream, a delectable parfait with terrific acting, gorgeous costumes, engaging heroes, despicable villains and a happy ending worthy of a classic Tinseltown blockbuster.

“Hollywood” centers on the glamorous Avis Amberg (Patti LuPone), a former silent movie star who married a studio executive when her career tanked (she sounded “too Jewish” for talkies). When she unexpectedly takes the reins at Ace Studios, she turns Hollywood into a real dream factory where women, people of color and queer people get to make movies, tell their stories, win Academy Awards and live happily ever after.

LuPone is simply magnificent. She’s smart, stylish and sexy. She looks amazing (the terrific costumes are by Sarah Evelyn) and delivers the crackling dialogue with fantastic flair and flawless timing (Janet Mock served as one of the producers, writers and directors for the show). LuPone also brings an appealing warmth and vulnerability to the role. She becomes the brains, heart and soul of this new celluloid kingdom and her performance is perfection.

LuPone is surrounded by a top-notch cast that brings together veteran actors and fresh-faced newcomers. Jim Parsons, known for his work on the sitcom “The Big Bang,” is electric as the snarling Henry Willson, the closeted agent and sexual predator who knows where the bodies are buried. Holland Taylor (“Bosom Buddies” and “Two and a Half Men”) is wonderful as casting agent Ellen Kincaid and Joe Mantello (Broadway’s “Angels in America”) offers a richly layered performance as a closeted studio executive.

Murphy regular Dylan McDermott is charming as Ernie, the suave Hollywood pimp based on the historic Scotty Bowers. His stable of affable sex workers includes Archie Pope, who blazes with sincerity and passion as a black gay screenwriter and David Corenswet, who’s period-perfect as the ambitious actor with the chiseled cheekbones.

Samara Weaving conquers some inconsistent writing to turn in a fine performance as Claire Wood, an aspiring starlet, but two of her castmates struggle with their roles. Darren Criss is rather monotonous as the cheery wanna-be director and Jake Picking is wooden as a fantasy version of actor Rock Hudson.

The cast has great fun demolishing Hollywood stereotypes, especially those around older women. LuPone and Taylor (both over 70) get sizzling sex scenes with their younger male co-stars. And while the female characters engage in delightful repartee with each other, they always have each other’s back. Despite some personal friction, Avis hires an “over-the-hill” actress (a superb Mira Sorvino) for a romantic lead and Claire cheers on the actress who gets the role she wanted.

In “Hollywood,” Ryan Murphy and company create an exquisite escapist fantasy where Tinseltown really is Dreamland and dreamers do find their rainbow connection. Since it simply ignores the historical reality of the period (messy things like laws against miscegenation and sodomy), it’s not really revisionist history, but does that really matter? Right now, a stylish and sentimental fantasy sounds perfect.

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LA Blade Exclusive: L Morgan Lee, Broadway’s newest icon sings her truth

She is the first ever trans actress to receive a Tony Award Nomination & the first trans performer to be in a work that has won a Pulitzer

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L Morgan Lee exclusively photographed by Andrey Strekoza for the Los Angeles Blade June, 2022

NEW YORK CITY – “I am just a girl,” L Morgan Lee tells me. That simple statement is her self-definition, a girl taking life one step at a time.

To the rest of us, L Morgan Lee is so much more. She is the award-winning actress starring on Broadway in the hit show of the season, A Strange Loop. Her singing talent matches that of any legendary diva, she is creating landmark theatrical projects on womanhood and New York Times articles are being written about her. She is the “girl” in the spotlight now.

She is also, the first ever transgender actor or actress to receive a Tony Award Nomination.

While she is not the first trans performer to be seen on a Broadway stage, she seems to have broken the glass (or some might say, cement) ceiling of being recognized in the upper echelon of talent. She is the first transgender performer to be in a work that has won a Pulitzer. While the Pulitzer recognizes the author, whom she was not, certainly her creative input was weaved into the final book of the play.

L Morgan has journeyed a complex path to self-awareness. “For me, even in terms of being trans, the idea of being anything outside of what I was assigned at birth was just laughable and crazy to me as a child,” she says. “It just, it made no sense. It was not something that I was comfortable saying out loud to anyone or voicing. How would I be looked at by my parents, by anyone else? So, I would sit and dream. The dreaming is, I think, what forms, much of so many queer people’s lives and experiences.   Those dreams become our lifelines. I would dream and dream. I have a memory of when I was maybe six years old, in the middle of the night, looking up at my ceiling in my bedroom. Waking up soaked with tears. Saying, if I could wake up and be a girl, a girl, everything would be okay.” She adds. “That is why I am so excited to have gotten my first opportunity to be on Broadway, excited to have gotten a Tony nomination. Because I know that there is some kid somewhere, who is also looking up at the ceiling saying that same thing.”

L Morgan’s first adventure into performing was as a kid and ironically projected her future identity fluidity: she costumed up and performed “Karma Chameleon” in nursery school. She allowed herself to explore her true identity under the guise of a Halloween costume quite a few years later. She went in fully fashion glammed drag, and it changed her world forever. “The minute I did it, I felt a jolt of energy I had never felt before. I finally felt free in so many ways. It’s as if like it’s as if I finally got to breathe.”

When she started work on A Strange Loop, she had been cast under the assumption that she was a cisgender man playing female parts. As the years of work into the play went on, L Morgan’s transgender journey escalated, and she attempted to resign from the play as she realized she was no longer the person they thought they had hired. Not only were they aware, as many close loved ones can be, of her journey, but they embraced her and assured her that she belonged more than ever.

“The characters I played allowed me to, in some ways hide until I was able to be more public about who I am. And once I did that, it certainly brought another layer of depth to what I was doing. I have been that much more comfortable in my own skin. I’ve grown. Transition has settled in more. So, both my viewpoints about the show, the people I’m playing, and my lens of life in general, has evolved through the process. So, certainly the woman I am today, views the show and the script, and the characters I play in a very different way than I did when I first sat down to do it in 2015.” 

Her growth within the show, and the growth of the show itself are intertwined. Certainly, some of the magic of the show is that it is not “performed” as much as it is lived out of the souls of the actors in it. L Morgan describes, “The experience of A Strange Loop has been beautiful, complex, layered and ever evolving, for me in particular.  Every time I’ve come back to the rehearsal room with this project, my own lens has been slightly evolved or has moved forward in some ways.”

“The piece is as strong as it is because the lens itself, the lens through which the story is told, is very specific and very honest. Inside of that specificity, there are lots of complications and layers and messy stuff. There are things that you don’t ‘talk about out loud’ taboo to discuss. There are things that people see as problematic. There are so many things inside of all of that, but it’s honest and it’s human. It is a 25-year-old, who’s about to turn 26, sort of raging through life, feeling oppressed and unseen and shouting out to find how he fits into the world. It is how he can find his truest voice in a world that doesn’t really allow him to feel like he’s enough. Because it is so specific about those things the show touches so many different people.”

L Morgan demonstrated coming out as a confident transgender actress, with her vulnerabilities unhidden, on the opening night of the play and decisions she made as she stepped into the public spotlight. “I feel a responsibility. It feels like a dream, it feels wonderful. It feels exciting. It’s like everything I’ve ever asked for but the, the most poignant feeling for me is the responsibility. How could I show up for that person that needs to find me.”

“On my opening night on Broadway, we were trying to figure out what I was going to do with dress and hair and all these things. You only get a first time once. You get your debut one time. So how do I make the most of this moment? I felt raw and excited. I needed to show like the most honest and clear-cut version of me I could. I needed to show my shaved head because that’s something that’s important to me. It’s something, I almost never show. I stepped out revealed, exposed and vulnerable on the very public red carpet, speaking to cameras with my buzzed head. Our relationship with hair runs very deep, especially for trans people, and there was something about it, that just felt like, I needed to do it. That kid somewhere under the covers needs to see this trans woman who is in her Broadway debut and she’s in a pretty dress and she has a shaved head, and she seems like she’s comfortable. Then when you hear her talking about it, you hear about her vulnerability and hear that she felt nervous, and you hear that she was dealing with dysphoria and she was dealing with confidence and she was dealing with all these things that we attached to our hair and she reveals those things. Not only because they’re true but because when we reveal Our Truth, our humanness, there is universality there. There is connection inside of our vulnerability.”

While the Tony nomination escalates her Broadway experience, L Morgan does not lose sight of her mortal existence. “On the day that the Tony nominations happened, I fell apart, completely losing it in my bedroom. Then I realized, I still needed to get a couch, and clean up the apartment. I still feel regular. It’s been a wild dream and at the same time, your real life just keeps on going. I am just trying to put one foot in front of the other.”

On the night of the Tonys. L Morgan will be up against some heavy hitters. Not the least of these is Broadway Legend Patty LuPone. L Morgan is ok with that. Her dream has been to see her face in one of the camera boxes on television of the nominee hopefuls.  

“The biggest reason I do, what I do is one because I love storytelling. My experience is black, my experience is trans, but I’m just, I’m just a woman. I am a woman who had a trans experience. That’s my story. I know that somewhere there’s s a kid, as I have said, who is just like I was. It is extremely important for me to make that kid proud and make that kid feel seen and make that kid know that it’s possible.” 

“I want that kid to be able to know that most importantly, they already are who they are dreaming to be. The world is telling you something different, but you know who you are. There’s nothing wrong with you, there is nothing wrong with us. The world has never told us that we were an option.”  

“That kid needs to find my story. They need to know that we exist. It is the reason it took me so long to be public about things and to start speaking, because I wasn’t seeing enough examples. There’s a quote, ‘she needed a hero, so that’s what she became.’ I really live by that.”

She needed to see a transwoman Tony Nominee. So that’s what she became.

When they call the winner on Tony Night, it will be between a Broadway legend and Broadway’s newest icon.

However it goes, another ceiling has been broken forever, and somewhere a trans girl in hiding will realize her dream too can come true.

*********************

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For better and for worse, Oscar makes history again

The biggest queer moment of the night was Ariana DeBose’s historic win as the first out woman to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress

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Jessica Chastain accepts the Oscar for Lead Actress (Screenshot/ABC)

HOLLYWOOD – By the time you read this, the biggest moment from this year’s Oscars will already be old news – but before we can move on to a discussion of what the wins and losses reveal about the state of LGBTQ+ representation, inclusion, and acceptance in the Hollywood film industry, we have to talk about it anyway.

When Will Smith stepped up onto that stage at the Dolby Theatre to physically assault Chris Rock – a professional comedian, doing the job he was hired to do in good faith that he would be safe from bodily harm while doing it – for making an admittedly cheap and not-very-funny joke, it was a moment of instant Oscar history that overshadowed everything else about the evening.

There’s been enough discussion about the incident that we don’t need to take up space for it here – tempting as it may be – other than to assert a firm belief that violence is never a good way to express one’s disapproval of a joke, especially during a live broadcast that is being seen by literally millions of people.

Smith, whether or not he deserved his win for Best Actor, succeeded only in making sure his achievement – which could have been a triumphant and historic moment for Black representation in Hollywood, not to mention an honorable cap for his own long and inspiring career – will be forever marred, and the palpably insincere non-apology that replaced what could otherwise have been his acceptance speech was only a textbook example of putting out fire with gasoline.

Yet that polarizing display also allows us a springboard into the much-more-important subject of queer visibility in the movies, thanks to another Smith-centered controversy (and there have been so many, really) from the early days of his career that sheds a lot of light on the homophobic attitudes of an industry almost as famous as playing to both sides of the fence as it is for the art it produces. 

Back in 1993, riding his success as a hip-hop artist-turned actor and springboarding from his “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” fame into a movie career, Smith appeared in the film adaptation of John Guare’s critically-acclaimed play “Six Degrees of Separation,” playing a young con artist who preys on a wealthy Manhattan couple (played by Donald Sutherland and Stockard Channing), convincing them to give them money and even move into their home before they eventually discover the truth after coming home to find him in bed with a male hustler.

Unsurprisingly (it was 1993, after all), some of the play’s homosexual content was “softened” for the film version, but Smith was still called upon to perform in a scene depicting a kiss between himself and co-star Anthony Michael Hall. After initially agreeing, he abruptly changed his mind (due to advice from friend-and-mentor Denzel Washington, who warned him that kissing a man onscreen could negatively impact his future career) and refused to do the kiss, necessitating the use of camera trickery to accomplish the scene.

Decades later, Smith expressed regret at the choice, saying it was “immature” and that he should have gone ahead with the kiss – but the story nevertheless provides some insight about the pressure placed on actors in Hollywood to appear heterosexual for their audiences, no matter what.

Despite advancements, that pressure continues today – and Smith, whose unorthodox and publicly rocky marriage already has put him under an arguably unfair microscope, has also been alleged (most notoriously by trans actress Alexis Arquette, who made controversial comments about the couple shortly before her death in 2016) to be participating in a sham marriage in an effort to conceal both his own and his wife’s queer sexuality, may well have been feeling it when he was moved to assert his masculinity at the Academy Awards.

True or not, such rumors still have the potential for ruining careers in Hollywood; and while it may be a facile oversimplification to assume that homophobia was behind Smith’s ill-advised breach of decorum, it’s nevertheless a topic that goes straight to the heart of why the Academy, even in 2022, has such an abysmal track record for rewarding – or even including – openly queer actors on Oscar night.

Granted, things have improved, at least in terms of allowing queerness to be on display at the ceremony. On Sunday night, out Best Actress nominee Kristen Stewart attended with her fiancée, Dylan Miller, with the couple sharing a public kiss on the red carpet as they arrived for the festivities; the trio of female hosts – which included out woman of color Wanda Sikes alongside fellow comedians Amy Schumer and Regina Hall – called out Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill with a defiant joke during their opening presentation.

Jessica Chastain – who won Best Actress for playing unlikely LGBTQ ally and AIDS advocate Tammy Faye Baker in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” – made an emotional speech decrying anti-LGBTQ legislation and advocating for all people to be “accepted for who we are, accepted for who we love, and to live a life without the fear of violence or terror.”

Numerous participants in the evening, whether male or female, queer or straight, took the opportunity to push gender boundaries with their couture for the evening (thanks for that, Timothée Chalamet). Elliot Page, joining Jennifer Garner and JK Simmons for a “Juno” reunion, became the first trans man to be a presenter at the Academy Awards. Finally, two beloved queer icons shared the stage for the evening’s finale, as Lady Gaga was joined by wheelchair-bound Liza Minnelli, frail but full of obvious joy at being there, to present the award for Best Picture.

The biggest queer moment of the night, of course, was also one of the first: Ariana DeBose’s historic win as the first out woman to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Accepting the award (for which she was considered by far the front-runner), De Bose proudly highlighted her queerness alongside her other intersecting identities, saying “You see an openly queer woman of color, an Afro-Latina, who found her strength and life through art. And that is, I think, what we’re here to celebrate.”

The evening’s other queer nominees did not fare so well. “Flee,” the Danish documentary about a gay Afghan refugee’s escape from his homeland as a teen, made history by scoring triple nominations as Best Documentary Feature, Best International Feature, and Best Animated Feature, but it went home empty-handed. Stewart – the only other openly queer acting nominee – lost to Chastain for Best Actress, and the divisive but queer-themed “Power of the Dog” lost its bid for Best Picture to “CODA,” as well as all of its multiple acting nominations – though its director, Jane Campion, already the first woman to be nominated twice for the Best Director Prize, became the third woman to actually win it.

Of course, the Oscar, like any other award, should be bestowed upon the most deserving nominee regardless of sexuality, gender, or any other “identity” status, and it seems unreasonable to expect all the queer nominees to win – though some might feel a little reparative favoritism wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing when it comes to balancing the scales. Even so, nobody has a chance to win if they’re not even nominated, and that’s where Oscar has repeatedly and persistently fallen short.

According to a recent report from Professor Russell Robinson, Faculty Director of Berkeley Law’s Center on Race, Sexuality & Culture, analysis of more than half a century of Academy Award acting nominations reveals that out of 68 nominations (and 14 wins) for performers playing LGBTQ roles, only two nominees – neither of whom went on to win – were LGBTQ-identified in real life.

While actors like Tom Hanks (“Philadelphia”), Sean Penn (“Milk”), Penélope Cruz (“Parallel Mothers” and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”), and the late William Hurt (“Kiss of the Spider Woman”) garnered career-boosting acclaim along with their Oscars for playing queer characters, there are no equivalent success stories for queer actors playing straight roles – indeed, only eight openly queer performers have gotten a nomination for ANY role, queer or otherwise, in the entire history of the Oscars, and no transgender performers have ever received one at all.

While one might believe statistics like this are at least beginning to change, bear in mind that both of Benedict Cumberbatch’s two Oscar nods so far were for playing gay men, including this year’s “Power of the Dog” (the first was for playing real-life queer hero Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game”).

The topic of whether straight actors playing queer characters is appropriate at all is of course a hotly-debated one, with reasonable arguments – and queer voices in support of them – on both sides. We won’t attempt an in-depth examination of that issue here, but what is obvious even without the above statistics is that the Academy – or rather, looking at it from a wider scope, Hollywood itself – has a deeply-ingrained prejudice against queerness, regardless of how loudly it proclaims itself to be an ally.

Yes, progress has undeniably been achieved, especially within the last few years; the strong showing of films like “Moonlight,” “Call Me By Your Name,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and other LGBTQ-oriented titles on recent Oscar nights has gone neither unnoticed nor unappreciated.

Yet the Academy – as well as the industry it represents – has a pattern of responding to criticism over its inclusiveness in half-measures. It takes more than a hashtag to end sexual harassment of women in the workplace, no matter how many times it’s flashed on the screen during an awards show, and it takes more than a token nomination every few years to give an underrepresented population a fair place at the table, too.

This year’s ceremony was not without its missteps. The choice to bump awards from the broadcast for time while simultaneously devoting minutes to a James Bond tribute or a performance of a song (“We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from Disney’s “Encanto”) that wasn’t even nominated; accompanying the annual “In Memoriam” tribute to the year’s dearly departed with a choreographed dance and vocal performance; the insensitivity of rushing some winners (like “Drive My Car” director Ryusuke Hamaguchi, accepting when his film won for Best International Feature) to finish their speeches while letting others continue uninterrupted; these and other ill-considered decisions had already blemished the show before “the slap heard ‘round the world” ever happened.

Nevertheless, this Oscar show felt more authentic than many in recent memory. There was a raw, unpredictable quality to it, perhaps rooted in the Academy’s controversial choice to relegate several “lesser” awards to a pre-show presentation, that manifested itself in the uncomfortable response of the audience to the often sharp humor of hostesses Sikes, Schuman, and Hall – who mercilessly skewered Hollywood’s say-one-thing-do-another approach to sexism, racism, homophobia and more throughout the show, often with visible apprehension over how their jokes might land.

Nervousness notwithstanding, their presence and their comedic calling-out of industry hypocrisy, along with the willingness of the celebrities in the house to laugh about it, was an element that lifted the proceedings enough to make them not only bearable, but sometimes even enjoyable.

That doesn’t mean the Academy can rest on its laurels. While it’s become common for their awards show – and all the others, for that matter – to serve as a kind of celebrity roast, where jokes are made and laughed at about the industry’s hot-button issue of the day, the persistent problems in Hollywood can’t be corrected just by allowing its workers to blow off steam by making fun of them once a year.

The film industry thinks that by going along with self-mocking humor about its own misogyny, racism, and homophobia, it gets a pass to continue ignoring the growing demand from the public to eliminate those same toxic ingredients from its standard recipe.

Perhaps the Smith incident, based as it seems to have been in a show of masculine dominance, will prompt some soul-searching within the entertainment community over its own rampant hypocrisy. Let’s hope so, because if the Academy Awards are ever to be truly inclusive in their representation of every segment of our society, no matter who they are or who they love, that’s something that has to happen first in the movies their prizes are meant to honor.

We’ve come a long way, to be sure, but we’re not there yet.

******************

Jessica Chastain Accepts the Oscar for Lead Actress:

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First openly queer woman of color, Ariana DeBose wins an Oscar

It was DeBose’s first academy award nomination and Oscar. The awards ceremony was held at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood

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Ariana DeBose in 'West Side Story' courtesy of Amblin Entertainment & 20th Century Studios

HOLLYWOOD – North Carolina native Ariana DeBose, who identifies as a Black-biracial queer Afro-Latina, won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress Sunday for her portrayal of Anita in Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of West Side Story.

The film was based on the 1957 Tony award-winning Broadway musical production directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and a book by Arthur Laurents.

DeBose in the category for Best Supporting Actress has previously won a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA. She was awarded the Oscar over her fellow nominees in the category including Aunjanue Ellis for King Richard, Kirsten Dunst for The Power of The Dog, Jessie Buckley for The Lost Daughter, and Dame Judi Dench for Belfast.

“Imagine this little girl in the back seat of a white Ford Focus. When you look into her eyes, you see an openly queer woman of color, an Afro Latina, who found her strength in life through art. And that’s what I believe we’re here to celebrate,” DeBose said in her acceptance speech.

“So to anybody who’s ever questioned your identity ever, ever, ever or you find yourself living in the gray spaces, I promise you this: There is indeed a place for us,” she added.

It was DeBose’s first academy award nomination and Oscar. The awards ceremony was held at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood and were hosted by Out lesbian comedian Wanda Sykes, actors Regina Hall and Amy Schumer.

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