Bay Area Reporter
Out & proud in show business
GLAAD Media Awards handed out in SF
by Adam Sandel
Words and images matter. That’s not only the slogan of GLAAD [the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation], it’s also the reason for the 21st Annual GLAAD Media Awards this Saturday night at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis. The event celebrates and honors those in the media for fair, accurate and inclusive representations of the LGBT community. This year’s celebrity honorees and guests span the worlds of film, television, music, advertising, print and online media.
Funny man Bruce Vilanch will host the gala event that will feature Hairspray star Nikki Blonsky, Queer Eye’s Jai Rodriguez, Queer as Folk’s Michelle Clunie and Thea Gill, actor Wilson Cruz, recently out country star Chely Wright, pop singer Sam Sparro, and KRON 4’s Jan Wahl, among others.
Actress Cybill Shepherd (of TV’s Moonlighting and The L Word) will receive the Golden Gate Award; Levi Strauss president Robert Hanson will receive the San Francisco Local Hero Award; and Lee Daniels, the Oscar-nominated director of the film Precious, will be presented with the Davidson/Valentini Award.
Openly gay Daniels was not only the first African-American to direct a Best Picture nominee, his producing debut Monster’s Ball earned a Best Actress Oscar for Halle Berry. His film The Woodsman featured a fearless turn by Kevin Bacon as a pedophile trying to rebuild his life.
For the three of you who haven’t seen Precious, it’s an unflinching yet inspiring tale of a young girl struggling to overcome a bleak life of poverty and abuse. Mo’Nique won a richly deserved Supporting Actress Oscar as the girl’s abusive mother, and the film’s screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher became the first African-American to win a Best Screenplay Oscar.
In a recent interview, Daniels commented on his affinity for material that explores characters who live on the edge of hope and despair. Daniels admits that he’s drawn to “that gray area that we fight all the time, between good and bad. I think we’re all good people â€“ I really believe that every morning when we wake up and our feet hit the floor, we stand up and we wanna be good people. But life throws us shit, and that shit defines that gray area where we live. I think that my cinema gives justice and life to that gray area.”
Despite his film being embraced and promoted by producers Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, Daniels never expected that Precious would resonate with a broad audience â€“ until it did.
“You just can’t imagine anybody but a specific demographic and cultural understanding of the DNA of this, and that’s the genius that makes it so beautiful â€“ that it’s so universal. That’s the gift Precious has given me. You really think you’re telling a story about a fat black girl, and only fat black girls will understand it, and then you realize we’re all Precious. We’re all fat black girls.”
Being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in this society can, at one time or another, make any of us feel like a fat black girl, even if you’re a thin, beautiful white girl.
Single white female
Chely Wright recently came out as the first openly gay country singer. For those of you who don’t follow country music, Wright was named the Academy of Country Music’s Top New Female Vocalist in 1994. Within the next few years she had major hits with her song “Shut Up and Drive” and her #1 single, “Single White Female.”
A native of Kansas City, Missouri, Wright grew up in a deeply religious Christian family. In her recently published memoir Like Me, Wright reveals that she was aware that she was a lesbian at an early age, but concealed her sexuality in order to pursue her dream.
After six albums, a public romance with country star Brad Paisley, and a secret 12-year relationship with a woman, Wright experienced a breakdown in 2005. Standing before a mirror with a gun in her mouth, Wright was on the verge of suicide when the tears began to flow â€“ and her need to live, honestly, consumed her. Wright’s depression, and her need for renewal, inspired her to write several songs which she began to record with producer Rodney Crowell for the her new album Lifted Off the Ground .
“When I was writing that music, I didn’t imagine I’d come out. I thought I’d still be hiding, and then I thought, ‘Holy crap, how can I keep hiding when the public is going to ask me who are these songs about?'”
Halfway through recording the album, Wright came out to Crowell, e-mailing him the song “Like Me” (her first overtly lesbian song). “As soon as I sent it to him, I opened up a Word document, and I began writing my book that day.”
Wright moved from Nashville to New York to write her confessional memoir. “It’s very calming and comforting when you’re committed to the truth,” she said. “Never for a moment did I think of turning back.”
For the support she needed, Wright turned to GLAAD. “Part of my reason for moving to New York was to put myself through gay school,” she said. “I wanted to educate myself, because I knew at some point I’d become a spokesperson for the gay community. They schooled me in this process â€“ and to be embraced and encouraged by my gay pals has been a great source of support.”
Some of the key lessons that GLAAD provided for Wright were to be patient but not strident. “In interviews, people are very nervous. They don’t want to mess it up. You don’t want to correct people or embarrass them.”
Unlike performers who have come out to more gay-friendly fans, Wright has penetrated the belly of the beast; country music fans are among the most conservative, fundamentalist people in the country. But in Chely Wright, the gay and lesbian community has a new Joan of Arc.
“In country music, we’re acutely aware of what we can and can’t sell to our public. But I’m not about to allow a 14-year-old kid to sit in his basement and think he’s all alone.”
And that is the spirit that the GLAAD Media Awards celebrates. Because words, images â€“ and even country songs â€“ matter.
21st GLAAD Media Awards, Sat., June 5, San Francisco Marriott Marquis, 55 4th St., 4:30-11 p.m. Tickets: $350 (includes cocktails, dinner, show and celebrity afterparty): www.glaad.org.