Monday, January 14, 2013

Jodi Foster 'out' as lesbian: a leap of faith and fear

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.


Diane J Standiford said...

I'm not sure what to say. Is that what she was? Brave, scared? Antonio played a gay man in Philadelphia. Any good actress would grab a well written non-hetro part in a heart beat. Rosie lost her talk show BEFORE she "came out." She has acting jobs since, been nominated for emmy, her health has held her back more than her sexual ID---even she say so. I LOVE Jodie Foster. I have seen ALL ofher movies and TV show parts. ALL. She was unable to carry off hetero love parts as she got older, she stopped trying--good call. To come out in that vague way when it is now a yawner is not "brave" to me. Brave was telling those groups who would love her as their "role model" that she refuses to be a LGBT leader/model/speaker, etc. THAT is brave. THAT I applaud. Bring people to tears re her mother---THAT I applaud, THAT I see as brave. I always thought her relationship with her moother was much like mine, and I did not know her mom had Alz or dementia, or whatever it seems she has. I love her more now than ever. Since most of Hollywood is gay, I don't think being gay is a big deal thanks to Ellen. Ellen was brave and she paid for it, until the Big Wigs saw that society had changed. Martina was hawking charge cards and surprise! gays had money. BTW, what "sponsors" does Jodie have to lose? I've never seen her in any commercial. Her voice would be PERFECT for ads. If she is still fearful, then she needs to get out more.

Kate J said...

It seems to be OK for a 100% hetero man or woman to play 'gay' roles - just like they might play someone with a mental illness... (or a killer!). These are 'challenging' roles that show their acting ability. What's not OK it seems (in Hollywood at any rate) is for a gay/lesbian actor to be accepted for who they are, to play any role they are suited for. Somewhat better in UK, I have to say, but we've a way to go.
Hope you're getting to see some movies these days.
Love & peace

GirlWithTheCane said...

So it's now appropriate to criticize even the tone of someone's coming out speech? People really do have a lot of nerve...

Great post, Beth.


Elizabeth McClung said...

Diane: You are no doubt in the vast majority in your opinion. And it does raise a question about the difference between being 'outed' and being 'out' or being 'out' to those close and being 'out' publically.

Personally, I think the person who acts, despite a fear spread over decades, is more couragous than someone who readily faces such fears again and again.

Yes, Antonio did act the part of a gay male 25 years ago - or as one gay movie lover said, "I love his gay Zorro" - it is hard at times to take his hetero face seriously, as it is with Depp's "All the Characters I play are gay in Part" (Willy Wonka much?). Perhaps they can be villified at that point for not being clearer.

As for Sponsers: the Pan-Arabia satire has already spoofed her new, un, love, from the Muslim Community - if only the Christian groups (like the one who boycotted girl scouts due to trans kids) had this level of irony.
Kate J: In the UK, a few roles are okay, in the US, one or two at most - unless it is a 'vehicle' films like Tom Hanks and Philadelphia - once the rumor gets around that an actor really is gay simply by taking gay roles over and over, they will never transcend to lead. 'Playing gay' might be acceptable in a society where actors don't come out, kind of how white british guys playing men from Arabia worked in Lawrence, or Ghandi was played by another british white guy. One hopes that wouldn't be the case today and 'Playing Indian, playing arab, playing black' isn't something as common. More likely, like Argos, the main character will be turned from Hispanic into white and then a 'true story' tag applied.

Girlwithcane: The internet sure hasn't seemed to increase human empathy as once dreamed, has it?