Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
May 9, 2000

Acceptance beyond the Oscars.
Author/s: Bruce Vilanch

You've probably forgotten about the Oscars by now, but Hollywood hasn't, our enemies haven't, and I haven't, and it's not just because I cowrote the show, which may still be going on for all I know. It was one of those shows where you leave the theater and search for the baggage claim. Yes, you could have flown almost coast to coast in the time it took to unravel, but most of the elements were performed fast and dirty, and the show cantered along at a brisk pace. But that's not why it is remembered by the ever-vigilant Wrong wing.

The big winners--American Beauty and Boys Don't Cry--explore openly gay themes, and not only that, they were created largely by openly gay people. This doesn't make our friends in Virginia and Orange County, Calif., terribly happy. That a beautiful young actress like Hilary Swank emerges a star from her portrayal of a girl living as a boy who is in love with a girl who may have been just as happy with a girl--this doesn't thrill them either. And that the gracious star uses her Oscar acceptance speech as a platform for tolerance and acceptance and diversity--well, they're yearning for the days when Jane Wyman picked up her Oscar, said thank you, and split.

Of course, Oscar night this year was a historic night for gay people. But the very fact that so much gay art, if you will, is being rewarded only adds fuel to the reactionary argument that Hollywood does, in Right-thinking eyes, follow a gay agenda--and by extension, that there is a gay agenda. (Memo to the operatives: Old gay agenda--world domination by 2001--has been scrapped. Look for new gay agenda in your mailbox sometime in June.)

One of our old nemeses, The Orange County Register's film critic Holly McClure, went on ABC's Politically Incorrect the night after the awards and lambasted the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for rewarding American Beauty, a movie that she says depicts the suburbs as filled with dysfunctional, repressed people, except for one gay couple, who seem to be coping pretty well. This worldview, she maintains, could be put forth only by a gay creative team with an agenda.

It doesn't faze McClure at all that so many straight people (including film critic Roger Ebert, who verbally slapped her around a bit that night) have embraced the movie--or that they feel that a heightened, stylized, satirical piece of work like American Beauty speaks to them with a certain sophisticated understanding of the way the modern world works. In the minds of people like McClure, it comes down to a simple formula: Well-adjusted gay people + dysfunctional straight people = gay propaganda.

Forget the nuance. Gay people just can't be seen to be all that healthy. Forget that in Boys Don't Cry, everybody needs to be checked into a facility. McClure went on that night to rail against TV's Dawson's Creek, particularly an episode that discussed the "friends with privileges" concept. The episode revealed that in high schools today there are some kids who have consensual sex for sex's sake, not for love. They remain friends (they say) but act out their urges with preselected buddies.

Nonsense, McClure says. It doesn't happen. It could be dreamed up only by a gay writer like, say, Kevin Williamson, the openly gay creator of the series. How would he know what straight kids do? she says. He's gay. No--he's openly gay and therefore a ready target for this sort of homophobic spew.

If all these artists were in the closet, who could Holly McClure blame when she encounters something that doesn't square with her perspective? That's the price we evidently must pay for living our lives in the open. And for being rewarded for creating art that resonates with millions of people of all persuasions across the board. I think it's a small price because it is being charged by a small mind. And as more of us proudly emerge, there will be fewer and fewer of them.