Watching Hollywood award shows is something of a habit, during which I always hope to find some nugget of meaning. When I was a kid, my family used to gather around the old Admiral TV and root for our favorites. It was a moment of precious togetherness where secrets and hurt feelings were suspended and we could tap into that strain of love we knew existed but all too often hid for one reason or another. For me, that reason was fear of rejection – which, in fact happened after I came out officially in 1988. I was eight years clean and sober and integrity yanked at my soul: I couldn’t let my friends be outted as gay and dying of AIDS without acknowledging that I, too, was gay. My mother couldn’t handle the truth and the family split was official.
I started watching award shows differently after that – focusing on who was wearing an AIDS Red Ribbon and who might be gay, especially after director Debra Chasnoff won an Oscar for It’s Elementary and thanked her partner from the stage. Every moment of courage and visibility mattered: our people were dying every day and mainstream America didn’t seem to care. Pissed off activists and gay journalists started calling out celebrities and power players on the immorality of hiding in the closet – OutWeek Magazine became a must-read publication.
Actress Jodie Foster was one of the celebrities most often mentioned, especially after Queer Nation and others pointed out the homophobia (what is now considered transphobia) in the 1991 hit Silence of the Lambs, about which she said nothing. (See Michelangelo Signorile’s piece in the Huffington Post.)
I tended to cut her some slack because of the incredible fear she must have experienced in 1984 when her stalker John Hinckley Jr. tried to kill President Reagan to get her attention. Celebrity stalkers in Hollywood are no joke and to have the added publicity of being out when antigay religious leaders like Lou Sheldon and politicians like Sen. Jesse Helms were calling gay people “perverts” and “abominations” was a good enough reason to stay in the closet.
Nonetheless, in the early 1990s, she helped her best friend Randy Stone and co-producer Peggy Rajski make the 1994 Oscar-winning short film Trevor – which was re-made for HBO in 1998 and was ironically introduced by newly out Ellen DeGeneres. And in 2007, the same year Randy Stone died of heart disease, she contributed another huge chunk of change to The Trevor Prohject, the largest in the organization’s history. I met her then, on the rope line. She seemed quintessentially sophisticated Hollywood – posing for pictures and seemingly accessible but inscrutable when asked questions. Foster said in a statement:
“I feel so lucky to have had a best friend like Randy Stone, the funniest guy I’ve ever known. He was talented, passionate, supportive, and as big as life. He brought all his beautiful energy to The Trevor Project, which has done such meaningful work on behalf of gay and questioning youths. The call center campaign’s impact will continue the Trevor mission in Randy’s honor just as he would have wanted. I am proud to continue my support of Trevor in memory of my dearest friend. He is missed.”
Some of us wondered if that trip to the Trevor Project event was the impetus for coming out of the closet later that December when she accepted an award at the 16th annual Women in Entertainment Power 100 breakfast, during which she said: “I’m not sure I’ve managed to deserve the family of friends that surrounds me … [including] my beautiful Cydney who sticks with me through the rotten and the bliss.”
The comment received attention in the gay and tabloid press as a quiet coming out befitting Foster’s secretive nature. But when Foster left older Cydney Bernard after 15 years for younger writer/producer Cynthia Mort in May 2008 – just as same sex marriage was granted in California – more and more details about Foster’s private life emerged. Foster and Mort, 33, who was described by the British press as “a rising star of the pink mafia,” apparently met on the set of The Brave One. Here’s an excerpt from a very long article in the Daily Mail:
Their lesbian partnership [Foster and Bernard] seemed to be the very model of a modern same-sex pairing. Jodie had the babies, which were conceived with the help of a sperm donor who is generally recognised to have been her friend Randy Stone, a gay film director.
She and Cydney then raised them in the suburban comfort of West Hollywood, where they had dogs, went for walks in the local park and lived as an utterly “regular” family. They had been together for five years before Jodie had her first son, Charles, and by that time Cydney and her were wearing matching Tiffany eternity rings.
Kit was born three years later, in 1998.
From time to time, Jodie would make a movie, but mostly she and Cydney stayed at home, taking Charlie and Kit for picnics, whizzing them to school in one of the couple’s matching convertible BMWs, and every now and then going for a big family holiday to Europe or the Caribbean.
Occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas were especially big deals; Foster’s mother Brandy would come along as well…..
It must be said, also, that Jodie Foster is a thoroughly unusual woman: the sole breadwinner for her single-parent family from the age of three, incredibly intelligent, and not given to any expressions of emotion.
“It is not my personality to be extroverted emotionally,” she told an interviewer. “So acting has been really helpful to me.”
She was the youngest of four children, and her parents split up when her mother was pregnant.
She was raised in a household led by her ambitious mother, who was in a lesbian relationship with “Auntie” Jo.
Her brother Buddy said that mum Brandy was a controlling woman, but Jodie clearly does not agree - she was so appalled by the book he wrote on the subject of their childhood that she hasn’t spoken to him in 12 years.
Jodie once said on the subject: “When it’s your responsibility to put bread on the table, crying is out of the question. No one says that to you, but you just know.”
She added: “Look, it’s terrible, I know, but weakness really, really bugs me, to the point that if there is a wounded bird on the sidewalk, I look at it and I go: ‘I think I’ll just kick it.’”
Perhaps one should not be surprised, then, by this latest rather ruthless act in her life.
So, as far as I’m concerned, Jodie Foster has been out since 2007 – which is one reason why I was so confused and angry when she made what I considered a convoluted, self-serving Golden Globe speech Sunday night, Jan. 13. (See video below) Judging by the explosion on Twitter, a lot of folks thought she officially came out, if somewhat awkwardly. A number of people thought her speech was “beautiful” and “real” and “raw” and “complex,” needing to be “deconstructed” and “unpacked” later to grasp its full meaning.
Well, let’s do some of that now. To start with – she’s 50. In a business that prizes youth almost as much as money – that’s a terrific admission. And we’re happy Robert Downey Jr. has talked her out of quitting acting, since she’s pretty good – albeit I totally missed the hamster reference in Downey’s intro with Mel Gibson playing second fiddle and Foster pretending to take a bite out of the stuff hamster literally on a silver platter.
“Trust me, 47 years in the film business is a long time,” Foster said, apparently going back to her bare-bottom Coppertone commercial. And then came the big tease, the big wind up – that no one expected:
“So while I’m here being all confessional, I guess I have a sudden urge to say something that I’ve never really been able to air in public. So, a declaration that I’m a little nervous about but maybe not quite as nervous as my publicist right now, huh Jennifer? But I’m just going to put it out there, right? Loud and proud, right? So I’m going to need your support on this.
“I am single. Yes I am, I am single. No, I’m kidding — but I mean I’m not really kidding, but I’m kind of kidding. I mean, thank you for the enthusiasm. Can I get a wolf whistle or something?”
What? This is starting to sound like she’s coming off the rails, as if it’s something she cooked up with her verbally abusive friend Mel Gibson that both of them think is funny and worthy of accepting the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award. And then she appeared to take a swipe at those who’ve come out more visibly than she:
I hope you guys weren’t hoping this would be a big coming out speech tonight, because I already did my coming out about a thousand years ago back in the Stone Age, in those very quaint days when a fragile young girl would open up to trusted friends and family and co-workers and then gradually, proudly to everyone who knew her, to everyone she actually met. But now I’m told, apparently that every celebrity is expected to honor the details of their private life with a press conference, a fragrance and a prime-time reality show.
Such as – Jane Lynch who was sitting there looking a bit befuddled? Or any of the myriad of other gay people in the room who are openly gay but no one’s made a big deal about it? And why would she have to pretend to be straight to stay on air if she had a reality show?:
“You know, you guys might be surprised, but I am not Honey Boo Boo Child. No, I’m sorry, that’s just not me. It never was and it never will be. Please don’t cry because my reality show would be so boring. I would have to make out with Marion Cotillard or I’d have to spank Daniel Craig’s bottom just to stay on the air. It’s not bad work if you can get it, though.
Now here’s where it gets dicey. On the one hand, you can understand why she so desires privacy. On the other hand, she’s earned and accepted many awards, has appeared in the tabloids off and on but not with such overwhelming consistency:
“But seriously, if you had been a public figure from the time that you were a toddler, if you’d had to fight for a life that felt real and honest and normal against all odds, then maybe you too might value privacy above all else. Privacy. Some day, in the future, people will look back and remember how beautiful it once was.
Andrew Sullivan writes: “How beautiful it once was”? When gay people were put in jail, or mental institutions, or thrown out of their families – all because of the “beauty” of privacy for Hollywood royalty like Foster? And she honestly believes it’s courageous to come out in a retirement speech?” But for me, “privacy” is the very excuse so many hide behind to avoid the consequences of coming out – consequences such as losing family and friends, shame, depression and suicide – consequences gay kids know too well, consequences her best friend Randy Stone was trying to help prevent by co-founding the Trevor Project. To me, “privacy” is something Mel Gibson calls for after getting caught in another tirade – not something Randy Stone would tell suffering LGBT youth to claim as a tactic to endure bullying.
Foster said: “I have given everything up there from the time that I was 3 years old. That’s reality-show enough, don’t you think?
Except what she left up there on the screen was acting and directing and being someone other than who she truly is, which some people care about as well as her skills at public transformation.
Foster said: “There are a few secrets to keeping your psyche intact over such a long career. The first, love people and stay beside them…. My family and friends here tonight and at home, and of course, Mel Gibson. You know you save me too.”
Homophobic, anti-Sematic Mel Gibson, mental health counselor? OK – did anyone believe them kissing in Maverick?
And then Foster made it official:
“There is no way I could ever stand here without acknowledging one of the deepest loves of my life, my heroic co-parent, my ex-partner in love but righteous soul sister in life, my confessor, ski buddy, consigliere, most beloved BFF of 20 years, Cydney Bernard. Thank you, Cyd. I am so proud of our modern family. Our amazing sons, Charlie and Kit, who are my reason to breathe and to evolve, my blood and soul. And boys, in case you didn’t know it, this song, all of this, this song is for you.
And this is what moved so many to tears – Foster’s tribute to her apparently lesbian mother, who is suffering from dementia:
“This brings me to the greatest influence of my life, my amazing mother, Evelyn. Mom, I know you’re inside those blue eyes somewhere and that there are so many things that you won’t understand tonight. But this is the only important one to take in: I love you, I love you, I love you. And I hope that if I say this three times, it will magically and perfectly enter into your soul, fill you with grace and the joy of knowing that you did good in this life. You’re a great mom. Please take that with you when you’re finally OK to go.
And in summation, Foster appears to signal retirement, which she later told the press she was not doing:
“You see, Charlie and Kit, sometimes your mom loses it too. I can’t help but get moony, you know. This feels like the end of one era and the beginning of something else. Scary and exciting and now what? Well, I may never be up on this stage again, on any stage for that matter. Change, you gotta love it. I will continue to tell stories, to move people by being moved, the greatest job in the world. It’s just that from now on, I may be holding a different talking stick. And maybe it won’t be as sparkly, maybe it won’t open on 3,000 screens, maybe it will be so quiet and delicate that only dogs can hear it whistle. But it will be my writing on the wall. Jodie Foster was here, I still am, and I want to be seen, to be understood deeply and to be not so very lonely.
“Thank you, all of you, for the company. Here’s to the next 50 years.”
To me, her most deeply personal, “confessional” remark was: “I want to be seen, to be understood deeply and to be not so very lonely.”
That is the cry of all of humanity, something that the wealthy superstars at the Beverly Hilton Hotel and the poor, at risk LGBT kids somewhere in a dark room crying can understand. And that is why I found Jodie Foster’s Golden Globe speech so infuriating: she knows this! And yet she apparently chooses to side with the angry self-centeredness of Mel Gibson rather than the loving humanity of Randy Stone. Yes, she has a right to do and say what she wants and to come out as she wishes. But she also has it in her to be bigger than that, to contribute what she knows about loneliness and hurt to benefit others – to benefit kids without the love of friends and family and she choose this award show where she could have reached millions to obfuscate, once again. The nugget of meaning I took from this Golden Globe: talent and brains don’t mean you prize humanity.