Connect with us

a&e features

Embattled Golden Globes scramble for show of diversity

Sincerity of message left in doubt

Published

on

Jodie Foster kisses wife Alexandra Hedison during Sunday’s broadcast of the Golden Globes. (Screen capture via YouTube)

HOLLYWOOD – Going into Sunday’s Golden Globes presentation, you already knew the Hollywood Foreign Press Association would be doing damage control.

One week before, the Los Angeles Times published a scathing investigative report that called into question – yet again – the legitimacy of the influential organization behind the awards, citing the body’s lack of diversity, its oft-questioned ethical and financial practices, and its penchant for bestowing its honors on the films and shows whose studios had done the best job of wining and dining its members.

If that were not enough, in the days leading up to the awards the HFPA was blasted by the Time’s Up organization (along with many prominent Hollywood voices) on social media for omitting several strongly favored Black-led films from this year’s top categories. Finally, on the very morning of the ceremony, the charity ran a full-page paid ad in the Times proclaiming the fact that, out of the HFPA’s 87 members, not a single one is Black.

So, as the 78th Golden Globes began, the HFPA had a lot more on its agenda than simply handing out trophies in a ceremony that has come to be seen as the most significant precursor to the all-important Oscars; it also had to make a convincing case for itself as the sole arbiter of who gets those influential trophies. Whether or not they succeeded might well have turned out to be irrelevant, by the end.

For anyone who tuned in to NBC’s bicoastal awards broadcast without having heard or seen anything about the controversy, things might not have seemed that different, at first. Hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were in fine form, and if their sly banter contained a considerable amount of humor at the expense of the HFPA’s sketchy reputation, that was nothing unusual – after all, poking fun of the Globes has always been a Hollywood pastime.

As things went on, though, it would have been impossible for anyone not to take note of the seriousness with which the evening was occasionally hijacked by such moments as the introduction of Spike Lee’s children, Satchel and Jackson, as “Golden Globe Ambassadors,” or the sudden appearance of three high-ranking HFPA members to offer a thinly disguised mea culpa in the form of a pledge to move the organization toward “a more inclusive future.” These gestures, marked with a level of pomp that made them feel all the more perfunctory, did little to encourage confidence in the organization’s sincerity.

Far more effective were the awards themselves. While no Black-led films made the cut in the nominations for Best Motion Picture Drama (that award went to the Chloé Zhao-directed “Nomadland”), some did take prizes in other major categories.

Both of the Leading Performance categories in Motion Picture Drama went to Black winners. Andra Day was named Best Actress for her powerful performance as the titular jazz icon in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” a film that documents the decades-long persecution of Holiday by the American government over her anti-racist song “Strange Fruit.” The Best Actor prize, in a win that felt both inevitable and well-deserved, was posthumously awarded to Chadwick Boseman for his searing star turn in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

The Best Supporting Actor award went to Daniel Kaluuya, for his work in “Judas and the Black Messiah.” Among the competitors he beat out was Leslie Odom Jr., nominated for his performance as Sam Cooke in the Regina King-directed “One Night in Miami.” King joined Zhao and Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Women”) as one of three female nominees for Best Director – a category that has previously only included five women in its entire history. Zhao took the win, becoming the first Asian-American female to do so.

The sole Black winner among the television categories was John Boyega, awarded Best Supporting Actor in a Series for his performance in “Small Axe.” The only other Black nominee, Don Cheadle (for his role in “Black Monday”), lost to Jason Sudeikis (“Ted Lasso”), whose self-effacing acceptance speech was one of the evening’s most markedly humanizing moments.

As for LGBTQ representation, many of the categories featured films that included LGBTQ characters, storylines, and performers. In the awards for television, the most obvious nod to queer audiences was the win by “Schitt’s Creek” for Best Comedy Series, and by its beloved star Catherine O’Hara for Leading Comedy Actress. Ryan Murphy’s “Ratched,” which had received nods for out actresses Sarah Paulson and Cynthia Nixon, failed to score a win.

On the movie side, Murphy’s screen version of the Broadway musical “The Prom,” about the fight for queer inclusivity at a high school, also ended the evening empty-handed, as did “Two of Us,” a lesbian-themed French drama up for Best Foreign Language Film category. But there were wins too; the aforementioned acting honors for “Billie Holiday” and “Ma Rainey” came for films that incorporated the bisexuality of their real-life subjects; “The Life Ahead,” which featured a significant trans character, won for Best Song; and Rosamund Pike took the award for Best Actress in Comedy/Musical for playing a lesbian grifter in “I Care a Lot.”

The biggest gay victory of the evening, arguably, was reserved for out film legend Jodie Foster, who not only won Best Supporting Actress for her performance in “The Mauritanian,” but gave viewers the treat of seeing her share an enthusiastic kiss on the couch with wife Alexandra Hedison before launching into her acceptance speech. It was perhaps the most memorable, and certainly the most unequivocally triumphant, among many such spontaneous, intimate surprises during the broadcast.

It’s that kind of unexpected authenticity that ultimately saved the Golden Globes, at least in the moment, from its sins. In a broadcast stripped of its usual lavish trappings by the necessity of producing a scaled-down-for-COVID version of one of Hollywood’s most excessive celebrity parties, what gradually became apparent was how little the Globes themselves – or any of the industry’s other self-congratulatory awards – actually matter in a world enveloped by much bigger concerns.

The movie stars, like the rest of us, were viewing from home; watching them negotiate the awkward fumbles and technical mishaps of the Zoom-style interface that is now painfully familiar to us all, seeing the way their unfiltered reactions mirrored our own, recognizing the tenderness and affection we share with our loved ones in the private moments we saw them share with theirs – these glimpses of common humanity felt far more significant than any of the accolades being awarded. The egalitarian sentiment they evoked, unintended and unforeseen, far overshadowed the heavy-handed efforts made by the HFPA to save face for its missteps.

Make no mistake though – those missteps matter. The Golden Globes have a long way to go before they can prove the sincerity of their stated intention to create a more diverse membership and promote a more inclusive industry. Last Sunday’s fumble of an awards show may have been elevated, in spite of itself, by the human element that crept in around its edges, but that’s not enough to get the HFPA off the hook.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

a&e features

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

Published

on

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:

Continue Reading

a&e features

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

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

a&e features

The Associated Press: Oscars Special, editor’s picks

For the first time in two years, the Academy Awards are rolling out the red carpet at Hollywood’s’ Dolby Theatre

Published

on

Los Angeles Blade graphic

NEW YORK – As the entertainment, motion picture and film communities gather in Los Angeles for the 94th annual Oscars ceremony at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood Sunday evening, the editors of the Associated Press have curated the news agency’s top six stories prior to this evening’s gala.

Oscars set for return to normal, except all the changes

LOS ANGELES (AP) — For the first time in two years, the Academy Awards are rolling out the red carpet at Los Angeles’ Dolby Theatre for what the film academy hopes will be a…Read More

The Oscars are tonight. Here’s how to watch or stream live

The 94th Academy Awards are right around the corner with just enough time to squeeze in watches of some of the 10 best picture nominees before the lights go down in the Dolby…Read More

Oscar Predictions: Will ‘Power of the Dog’ reign supreme?

Ahead of the 94th Academy Awards, Associated Press Film Writers Lindsey Bahr and Jake Coyle share their predictions for a ceremony with much still up in the…Read More

List of nominees for the 94th Academy Awards

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Nominees for the 94th Academy Awards, which were announced Tuesday via a livestream. Winners will be announced on March 27 in Los Angeles. Best actor:…Read More

Oscars to celebrate ‘Godfather,’ ‘Bond’ anniversaries

LOS ANGELES (AP) — James Bond didn’t get an Oscar nomination this year, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t be part of the ceremony. It’s the 60th anniversary of the first…Read More

Oscars celebrate May, Jackson, Ullmann and Glover

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Elaine May was the last to arrive and the first to leave at the Governors Awards on Friday in Los Angeles. Her fellow honorees, Samuel L. Jackson, Liv…Read More

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @LosAngelesBlade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular