anne hathaway, beasts of the southern wild, ben, ben zeitlin, coming out, cydney bernard, daniel craig, evelyn foster, gail o'neill, gay rights, golden globes speech, hushpuppy, jodi foster, jr., marion cotillard, mel gibson, robert downey
“The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece… the whole universe will get busted.”
-Hushpuppy, Beasts of the Southern Wild
When the Hollywood Foreign Press snubbed “Beasts of the Southern Wild” during the nomination phase of the Golden Globes, I was determined to snub Sunday’s awards ceremony in protest. The film– which has been nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, for first-time director Ben Zeitlin– is the most original, imaginative and compelling story I’ve ever seen on a big screen, so it really bugged me that such a masterpiece could be entirely overlooked by any creative body.
Besides, thanks to my standing date with “Downton Abbey” every Sunday evening… just saying “no” to the Globes would not exactly be a hardship.
But after watching my beloved Masterpiece Theatre series (which left me clutching my heart and gasping out loud!) I retrieved a voicemail from my sister-in-law Kim asking if I was watching the Globes. Slowly, I felt my conscientious objector resolve diminish as I rationalized, “What harm could come from tuning in to see who’s wearing what in the last hour of the broadcast?” and made the switch from PBS to NBC.
Little did I know even more clutching and gasping was in store for me that night, but I’m getting ahead of myself…
Jodi Foster was taking the stage as I tuned into the Globes, and she was luminous.
Her hair was cut in a fresh, new bob that perfectly balanced her square jaw, high cheekbones and aquiline nose. She was wearing a navy beaded Armani Privé gown with criss cross halter that both complemented her bright, blue eyes and flattered her sculpted arms and trim décolletage. And yet, for all its feminine charms the dress also exuded a warrior aspect that reminded me of chainmail, mantles and other suits of armour better suited to a battlefield than a black tie ball.
Whether Giorgio Armani consciously incorporated the aspect of dress-as-body-armour into his design is any one’s guess, but the choice proved prescient given what was about to unfold…
Though Foster came to accept the Cecil B. DeMille Award in recognition of “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment,” she apparently saw an opportunity to impact the thinking of a very wide demographic, and wound up conquering her audience with an acceptance speech that was loud and proud.
Which is not to say it was all smooth sailing…
In a speech I’ve come to think of as equal parts “I’m coming out” and “I vant to be alone“– the typically self-possessed actress appeared so high-strung that her audience picked up on the vibe immediately. The closest thing I’d ever seen to Foster’s level of tension during a live broadcast was the time David Letterman opened “The Late Show” with a monologue cum mea culpa about his affair with an office intern that led to an attempt at blackmail and eventual arrest of the would-be blackmailer. And just as half of Letterman’s audience cracked up (thinking the odd topic was just another of Dave’s wacky sketches) while the other half fidgeted uncomfortably under the weight of the revelations; so were the glitterati seated in the Beverly Hilton Hotel ballroom at a loss for how to respond as one of their own rambled on from the podium.
Frankly, I was more than a little uncomfortable in spite of being sprawled on my couch at home as I watched, and my discomfort was exacerbated by the show director’s unfortunate choice to zoom in on the faces of stars who were obviously thinking “This… is… sooooo… awkward.” Even Robert Downey, Jr., the Cool Hand Luke of awkward situations, appeared somewhat stunned as he watched Foster from stage left. While Mel Gibson, Foster’s escort for the evening, looked like he was thinking “This cannot end well…” as he observed his long-time friend teetering on the edge of what appeared to be an emotional precipice.
Where was Foster going with her coy confession-to-nowhere that, “I just have a sudden urge to say something I’ve never really been able to air in public. I’m just gonna’ put it out there. I am… uh… single“? What was up with the few seconds of deleted audio where her lips kept moving, accompanied by more visuals of the audience looking puzzled, only to have the sound resume as she said “…I hope you’re not disappointed that there won’t be a big coming-out speech tonight because I already did my coming out about a thousand years ago back in the Stone Age”? Was she coming out, or going deep?
Was the audio blip the work of censors? Or was it my cable? And when Foster assured us that she would not be doing any reality shows, lest she have to “make out with Marion Cotillard or… spank Daniel Craig’s bottom just to stay on the air,” it took me a few seconds to process what I thought I heard. (Leave it to the French to maintain their sangfroid as even Agent 007 broke into a flop sweat. Case in point, the lovely Cotillard: who looked relaxed and appeared to be having a rollicking good time while everyone proximate to her looked like they needed a time out.)
Eventually… mercifully… Foster found her footing and did what she does best: she got real.
There was no mistaking her intent, gratitude and sincerity when she said, “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, consiglieri, most beloved BFF for 20 years, Cydney Bernard. Thank you, Cyd. I am so proud of our modern family.”
By the time Foster turned her attention to “the greatest influence of my life, my amazing mother, Evelyn,” she was in tears, as was half her audience. “I love you. I love you. I love you,” Foster continued in honor of her mom, who is apparently ill. “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.”
(Can I just say that Anne Hathaway deserves an honorable mention for those heartbreakingly large, limpid, soulful, brown eyes of hers that brimmed with tears as she listened to Foster? Goodness! With the exception of teddy bears, Bambi and Dumbo, I’ve never seen such ridiculously expressive eyes on a mammal before.)
Whether spilling with tears or dry as a bone– how anyone managed to take their eyes off of Foster long enough to tweet or record their responses on Facebook for posterity is still a mystery to me because I was riveted: hanging on her every word and expression. But social media was abuzz in real time, and the reviews were mixed. Fans praised the notoriously private actress for her amazing speech and bravery, while critics blasted her for half-stepping when they felt a full court press was in order. And while I understood both viewpoints, my takeaway was that Foster showed us all what grace and dignity under pressure looks like as she was forced into the ill-fitting role of the accidental role model.
It took tremendous courage for a woman who has always avoided the look-at-me/tell-all aspect of celebrity culture to do what Jodi Foster did at the Golden Globes. I found her shyness in the face of taking a giant step out of her comfort zone absolutely endearing. The fact that her speech wasn’t facile, slick or perfectly packaged was a reflection of her sensitivity and thoughtfulness, in my mind. In fact, her delivery was a breath of fresh air precisely because it was so raw, edgy and, at turns, uncomfortable to watch.
Given the reality that we were observing a proud, intelligent and exceptionally dignified woman bare her soul in public– in a manner that was so obviously contrary to her nature– it seems appropriate that the exercise should have made us all squirm a little for two reasons. Firstly, because who Foster loves and chooses as a life partner is none of our business. And secondly, because the belief that gay men and women should feel any more compelled than their straight counterparts to explain, justify or have anyone else ratify their choices is outdated and has no place in civil society.
Of course, there are those who would argue that along with Jodi Foster’s celebrity comes a responsibility to address social injustice and agitate for change. But I’ve never subscribed to the notion that an artist (or sports star, or any public figure for that matter) owes us anything but their best effort in their chosen field. To the contrary: I think examples of excellence are so few and far between that the least we can do for those who deliver it on a regular basis, as has Foster for 47 years, is thank them for being who they are, try to live up to their stellar example and respect their natural inclinations when their workday is done– whether this involves standing on a soap box, or curling up with a good book.
That said, I think Foster’s decision to deliver her message where and when she did was informed by profound love and wisdom. I hope we, the recipients of her good faith, prove worthy of the gesture; and pray that her words will resonate with any boy, girl, man or woman who has even felt marginalized due to their sexuality or questions surrounding gender identity. Foster’s humanity is the best argument against the insanity of those who seek to protect a separate and unequal status quo in which straight people are entitled to marry, while gay people are entitled to civil unions. Her resolve not to throw out the “righteous soul sister” with the bath water– in spite of having ended her romantic partnership with Bernard years ago– demonstrates a maturity, civility and commitment to family values that is as rare in 2013 as it is exemplary.
By the time Foster exited the stage on Sunday night, rumor had it that she planned to retire; when what she actually said in closing was that she would continue to tell stories that will “be my writing on the wall. Jodi Foster was here, I still am, and I want to be seen, to be understood deeply and to not be so very lonely.”
Which, given the content of her character, doesn’t strike me as too much to ask; and given Hushpuppy’s prophecy about the interconnectedness of all things great an small, is a favor none of us can afford to ignore.