Is Hollywood Finally Starting to Coming Out?

Is Hollywood Finally Starting to Coming Out?
Sean Penn as Harvey Milk
“…Gay brothers and sisters,…You must come out. Come out…to your parents…I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives. ..come out to your friends…if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors…to your fellow workers…to the people who work where you eat and shop…come out only to the people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters who are becoming scared by the votes from Dade to Eugene.”
-Harvey Milk, June 25, 1978

(note that when I use the term actors I also include actresses. It’s just that gay actors are far more interesting to me than lesbians. I can’t imagine why!)

Oscars day in Los Angeles is nothing like Oscars day anywhere else, and it’s a city-wide event. Unlike in other locations, it’s happening right here – streets have been closed for weeks in preparation, on the way to Oscar parties, traffic was at a standstill as motorists gawked at parties being set up along the Sunset Strip. Almost everyone in this city is in the industry, spending their days reading the trade magazines and following the movements of studios and productions, tracking movies for years before they are even released. So Oscars are the most important night of the year, not just for those at the event, but for anyone who hopes to be there one day.

We went to three parties – one at Family Theatre, where Justin Lerner, a filmmaker from the RI Film Fest, has a strong affiliation. He won their film festival and they’ve been sending him around the world to screen the film – it’s a pretty sweet organization. Priests, kettle corn, and wine. Then we went to my friend Matt’s place, where a room full of career actors clutched their oscar pool predictions and shouted at the television whenever anything happened. The ceremony is a lot more tolerable if you know the players and the industry gossip, and this was a much more enjoyable ceremony than most.

And it was by far the gayest Oscar ceremony ever–for a plenitude of reasons, and not just the ones you’d think.

There was Milk, of course. Best Screenplay, Best Actor, best showing ever for a gay-themed movie. Whether it was Brokeback’s failure or Prop 8’s passing that did it, the Academy embraced the film. Sean Penn and Dustin Lance Black both mentioned equal rights and marriage equality in their speeches, and it was just about the only political message of the night. (Dustin’s speech we watched at the church…that was pretty awkward.) The Academy has a history of passing on openly gay people and projects, and this exception could signify the start of a change. When the “here’s a look at what love was like in 2008” features a gay kiss intercut with straight ones, you know something’s happening.

But far more interesting were the characters who we know are gay (as much as you can really know somebody is gay just by rumor), who are not open. The host Hugh Jackman, Will Smith, Zac Efron, the list goes on… Sadly, so many celebrities remain as closeted now as they ever have been, but I think it’s changing. Lindsey Lohan is decently open about having a girlfriend, and coming out is the standard last-ditch move for a fading movie star to get attention (think Lance Bass and Niel Patrick Harris). And straight actors are more comfortable playing gay roles than ever!

It’s my hope that the national trend of increased openness will mean that we start to accept gay actors as able to play straight roles, and the high-profile actors begin to poke their heads out of that dingy closet, ending the notorious self-hatred of this industry. Sure there is hypocrisy in an academy that promotes the man who said the above words, yet can’t come out itself – but it is taking time for societal changes to propagate through the industry. And mark these words, one day little gay children will believe that they, too, can be true to who they are and be accepted by the world and their peers.