In coming out as gay yesterday, Jodie Foster has already been heavily criticized for not being upbeat enough, not making it cheerful and lovely. Instead she spoke as if this was an announcement which scared her, and which would likely not make her life better day to day. She has good cause to feel this way.
I remember when Rupert Everett came out as gay, after giving lush performances of Oscar Wilde’s plays adapted to film. Yes, that would be Oscar Wilde, the convicted sodomite, who was sent to prison then exiled to France – from the toast of the British entertainment scene to convict and outcast, coming ‘out’ didn’t make life easier for Oscar Wilde. And I remember a few years later watching a special interview with Rupert Everett when he talked about how his announcement changed his life from doing several major Hollywood films a year to having ZERO offers. To make ends meet, he ended up doing a Russian film is Russia, because they had not heard he was gay. Then it was acting in French productions or small company films before finally returning as a voice actor in Shrek. He explained in detail how he went from a rising star to nothing. Thankfully now, he is starting to come back.
There is an absence of ‘out’ lead actors (male or female), much like the absence of ‘out’ gay male football, hockey and baseball players: where those one or two are a minute fraction of the stats of gay men in the general population. It is because there is so much to lose. It isn’t just that the individual has gone from being a ‘talent’ to being ‘gay’ and facing the bias from Hollywood execs to TV/screen writers. It is about what is not offered anymore, because they are thinking how the press will play it in Alabama. Still, if there are a grouping of males on show, anti-gay jokes will present. It happens on Big Bang; the show Scrubs was so extreme, I couldn’t watch it. The popular show House managed to not only be anti-gay, but also anti-lesbian, anti-intersex and in the final season, anti-asexual, with an episode when House bets Wilson that there is no asexuality, and anyone who claims to has it is either a liar, has a medical condition or both. He goes on to prove that the asexual male was ill (and cured him into heterosexuality) and the female was lying.
Jodie Foster watched while Rosie O’Donnell was replaced on her own talk show after coming out on Will and Grace and four years of exile before another long term gig. And, like Athletes, her loss of sponsors and adverts. Muffin Spencer-Devlin, the first ‘out’ female golfer, in a film about the LPGA, talked about her immediate loss of sponsors upon coming out. And without sponsors, you cannot train, you cannot travel around the country/world to events in order to compete. So coming out can threaten to eliminate your ability to be a top athlete. Spencer-Devlin has had a series of harassment from the LPGA including a restriction on her that her golfing shorts weren’t feminine enough.
Angelina Jolie, whose film in the 90’s Foxfire and Gia, are bisexual and lesbian classics, has moved far, far away from that image on screen. Though probably men as well as bi and lesbian women would love to see her in another woman on woman film, it doesn’t play well in the Bible Belt.
Some actors, like Antonio Bandaris and Johnny Depp manage to play trans and gay characters in foreign films, but for Hollywood films, they are sexy males in hetero relationships. In the same way Russell Crowe playing Dr Frank N Furter in Rocky Horror and a gay plumber in The Sum of Us while in Australia, once in the US, his roles are about ‘manly men’.
During my time working at the cinema, the second and particularly the third matrix film had absolute no filming information. This wasn’t just reluctant directors but closed sets and legal documents enforcing that no one stated what they saw on set. At the cinema, we noted that the third Matrix film had a new credit sequence sent changing ‘The Wachowski Brothers’ to ‘Creators of the Matrix’ or ‘Wachowski’s.’ At the same time Rolling Stone came out with an article saying that one brother, L, was into hardcore submission from his bondage mistress. And that this included crossdressing.
I on the other hand, could see in each film from Bound onward a strong idealization and self identification as lesbian/bisexual women (it is not a subtle theme in ANY of the Wachowski films). So it wasn’t a great surprise to hear rumors about Lana or her coming ‘out.’ The Human Rights Commission gave Lana a Visibility Award; which I found odd as it was giving the award only three to four months after she officially came ‘out’, but I can see how it would be an encouragement that a person can transition and succeed. Reporters in stories couldn’t seem to refrain from the ‘and now SHE is promoting Cloud Atlas’ emphasis. In the same way they state, 10 years late, that Lana publicly is here as a transgendered woman. Irksome.
It irks me because Lana is a woman. Unless she is speaking about being transgendered, she is just female. She hasn’t asked people if they approve, and she shouldn’t have to, because she just is. Perhaps the press are irked themselves that deciding to keep private things private, Lana had treatments, therapy, transition and real life experiences in that decade spent away from their eyes. So, she’s here, and I have to hope that she continues to get offers to direct films.
But coming out is a risk, particularly in an industry that will sideline you FOR your image. Ellen turned her sexuality into a talk show success. Is that what she wanted after doing TV sitcom’s and starting into movies? Maybe not.
Jodie Foster knows, because she has seen it over and over, that you may not get the same chances or opportunities that were offered when you were closeted. That your endorsements may change, as openly anti-gay sponsors like Radio Shack, Walmart, Chick-fil-A, Cinemark, Kelloggs, Exxon, Toy’s R US, Domino’s and dozens of other will drop you or not offer a commerical or sponsorship.
I am glad she has come out, as her strong female characters and her directing of Little Man Tate, a film about the alienation of highly intelligent children have always resonated with me. I applaud her bravery, while I acknowledge her fear. Though many would wish it, life doesn’t always get better for LGBT individuals after high school.
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