No, this is not a summation of the entire year in LGBT—it’s just a smattering. Many will weigh in with other topics and other articles. But here is my sampling of some of the highs and lows of the queer year in culture.
In February, Moonlight, a black gay boy’s coming of age trilogy set in Miami, was declared the Oscar winner for Best Picture, but only after presenter Faye Dunaway had already crowned La La Land. (Something about an accounting firm employee too busy texting and handing over the wrong envelope. He won’t be back.) Before the La La Land mix-up, however, Moonlight writer Tarell Alvin McCraney managed to give a shoutout to gender nonconforming kids in his acceptance speech for Best Adapted Screenplay.
And that wasn’t the only LGBT TV this year. Will & Grace returned to NBC and managed to still make gay waves; ABC’s miniseries When We Rise chronicled the early days of the LGBT movement; Doubt had Laverne Cox as a trans lawyer (unfortunately, it’s success was doubtful). And though Feud wasn’t gay per se—except for supporting character Victor Buono, an actor who was busted in a police raid—it drew many gays, especially older ones, to the story of aging move divas Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) having a lifelong showdown.
A music-world battle royale happened when Frank Ocean’s father, Calvin Cooksey, sued the singer for claiming he’d made anti-LGBT slurs. It sounds like this long-raging father-son battle needs some “Novocane.” More positively, on Jay-Z’s album 4:44, the rapper’s mom, Gloria Carter, came out as a lesbian. (She didn’t sue.)
Furthermore: Grammy winner Shelby Lynne declared herself a lesbian and Aaron Carter came out as bi. (I remember years ago, when Aaron went to the “friends and family” preview of a NYC gay club called XL and his gay handler pulled him away when I started to get inquisitive. Glad he’s less touchy now.) Meanwhile, 1970s singer Barry Manilow finally came out as gay. And popular singer/songwriter Sam Smith revealed that he feels just as much of a woman as a man. And suddenly I became way more interested in him.
But some singers needed to go back in (the house) and hide. For example, People’s “Sexiest Man Alive,” Blake Shelton, had tweeted some homophobic and racist things, which made him an extremely unsexy choice for that honor. And in May, when Katy Perry used drag queens in her performance on SNL, supposedly her featured performer, the hip-hop trio Migos, was uncomfortable with them around, so their ranks were reduced. (Migos’ label denied the story.)
In movies? Le Fou, the Josh Gad character in the live action Beauty and the Beast, was one of us, and gay director Bill Condon explained that some days the guy wants to be the hunky Gaston, but other days he wants to kiss Gaston. As presented in the film, gay stuff is hinted at, but the actual revelation isn’t made until the final part, and if you blinked, you missed it. Still, some absurd controversy erupted over it. You mean a romance between a girl and a beast is okay, as long as there’s no homosexuality in it? Ah, who cared? The Disney film made a fortune, and Gad has moved on to playing another gay cartoonish character—author Truman Capote—in the film Party of the Century.
Thankfully, there was a lot of other LGBT action in filmland, and not just gay crumbs. BPM (Beats Per Minute) is an acclaimed French film about the struggles of AIDS activists in the ‘90s. In Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, Richard Jenkins plays a gay artist who comes to appreciate his mute roommate’s efforts to save a scaly creature; they all become bonded in their otherness.
Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool has faded film star Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) and her younger lover, Peter (Jamie Bell), revealing to each other that they’ve had same-sex relationships. Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird had a gay guy trying to pull off a straight relationship, which a key character reacts to with an interesting mixture of emotions. Battle of the Sexes detailed married tennis pro Billie Jean King’s emerging lesbianism, as she becomes involved with a lady hairdresser, the film building up to King (Emma Stone) pondering her choices.
Charlize Theron had a lesbian subplot in Atomic Blonde, which was many people’s fantasy, and Tessa Thompson announced that her Valkyrie character in Thor: Ragnarok was bisexual, though, alas, that was only in an earlier edit; By the final cut, the bi was bye bye. Still, in I, Tonya, the movie about embattled figure skater Tonya Harding, there was the part where mom (Allison Janney) tells Tonya after a performance, “You skated like a graceless bull dyke.” It’s okay—mom’s supposed to be a monster.
She’s not the only one. In the 1960s-set drama Novitiate, Melissa Leo effectively played a tyrannical reverend mother who looks for lesbian activity among her novitiates, and when she finds it, humiliates them in a rather ungodly way. God’s Own Country was a raw, affecting male-on-male romance set in northern England. And the towering Call Me By Your Name was a lyrical, complicated love story between a professor’s handsome research assistant and the professor’s younger son, set in the 1980s. Actor James Woods got into a big, stinky mess when he tweeted his disdain for the alleged immorality of the gay story. He was called to task (by many, including costar Armie Hammer and actress Amber Tamblyn) for even more hypocrisy than we’d expect from Woods.
There were two documentaries dealing with late pop sensation Whitey Houston, and one of them contended that the singer’s demise was caused by the fact that she was never really allowed to be herself. I had long written the very same thing. When Whitney died in 2012, I noted that the great majority of obits refused to even acknowledge her bisexuality, just like Whitney herself avoided doing so. (My first write-up of her passing even neglected to mention it.) I remembered that her relationship with Robyn Crawford was an open secret in the business, but then Whitney denied it and married Bobby Brown (“as if that was a good career move,” I wrote) and Robyn started fading more and more into the background. I concluded about Whitney, “And didn’t the way she always ran from the rumors contribute to her own self-defeating tendency for drama and tension?” Of course, Whitney was abetted in all that by the religious and money-conscious concerns of some people around her.
Another headline grabber’s demise was not nearly as sad. Conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos was dropped by Breitbart—and pretty much everyone—after icky remarks concerning pedophilia. His subsequent memoir flopped, but on the bright side, Milo later got married to a man. He was only able to do so despite Republicans’ efforts to stop gay marriage.
In general, things got so p.c. that even our allies were being called on the carpet. Stephen Colbert was called homophobic and gross for making a joke about Trump blowing Putin. But [as I told my Facebook followers], Colbert wasn’t making fun of gays, he was mocking Trump and Putin. And since they’re two of the world’s biggest homophobes, it was actually a great way to shame them. Some conservative Trump supporters were mad too, saying Colbert’s joke was disrespectful and vulgar. But the person they voted for bragged about grabbing pussy! When the FCC launched an investigation into Colbert’s remarks, it seemed like the height of misplaced energy.
Another ally, the well-meaning Andrew Garfield, said he’s not gay, but he might be someday and right now he’s basically gay without the sex. And I’m black without the color. Also proving that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, Vogue had to apologize for a serious cover story calling Zayn Malik and Gigi Hadid (and other celebs) genderfluid because they sometimes don the garb or makeup of the opposite sex. Good try, but wrong. Alarmed at some other fake news, exercise gay-ru Richard Simmons sued the National Enquirer for saying he’s transgender. He should have sent them flowers.
Rihanna explained that she doesn’t do specific trans casting calls to promote her merch because she doesn’t believe in tokenism or using people as a marketing tool. I totally agree—and have called out media outlets, many of which had LGBT-phobic histories, for suddenly deciding with a vengeance that trans is cool. But that argument only works if you do include trans people.
And in the drag realm, NYC performers Sweetie (a genius at lipsynch and comedy) and Flawless Sabrina (the organizer/MC of the drag pageant in The Queen) both passed on, as tears flowed from those all too aware of their legend. Carrying the torch is Brooklyn queen Sasha Velour, who won RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9 and will lead us into the new year with wit and great outfits. Cheers.
The “Room” Where It Happens
The Disaster Artist is about the making of the world’s best-worst movie, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, but it also has to do with Wiseau’s friendship with his costar and friend/roommate Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), a bond that had elements both twisted and sweet.
There’s a tense moment when Sestero thinks he might have to sleep in the same bed with Wiseau, but it’s handled as a sort of joke. Missing is the bit from Sestero’s book where Wiseau seems to come on to him and made chirping chicken noises (out of The Room) when Sestero demurred. As someone who’s seen The Room about 1,000 times, I can tell you that also absent are the famed pizza ordering scene and the part where mom keeps screeching, “A man like that—with a gun!” But you can’t include everything. And Franco did a thorough job with this good film about a bad film, and even ends with a meaty sequence in which scenes from the real Room share a split screen with Franco’s corresponding recreations.
Franco captures Wiseau’s mania, weirdness, mystery, and drive for truth. Brother Dave Franco is always appealing, though he doesn’t really try for Sestero’s tranquilized blandness. Ari Graynor is game as Juliette Danielle/Lisa, while Jacki Weaver is perfect as Carolyn Minnott/Claudette, who just wants to be on a movie set, any movie set. The result is a giddily enjoyable peek into creative dreams gone awry—and you have to love the fact that Wiseau thought The Room had a chance for Oscars, even after it was jeered at its premiere, and now The Disaster Artist could actually get nominated for some.
Try To Remember
Oscar winner Barbra Streisand was at the York Theatre Company’s gala honoring Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt at the Asia Society—on video! Still, it was a thrill to see Babs looking homey as she gave a tribute to the seasoned and acclaimed theater composer and writer.
She said that she tried out for the female lead in The Fantasticks when she was 16, but didn’t get it—imagine Barbra Streisand being turned down for a part? But the enduring superstar added that she used two of the songs from that score in her first nightclub show, and she adored the guys who wrote it. [Side note: In the brief video, Barbra was looking directly at the camera rather than trying to only show off “her good side.” The front side turns out to be perfectly fine.]
Streisand most recently has been “turned down” for the part of Mama Rose in Gypsy—her proposed movie version hasn’t gotten greenlit—which allows me to segue into something that happened later that evening: Video spoofer Randy Rainbow—in person—auctioned off an angry letter from the legendary Ethel Merman to her agent, bitching that she would not take the Gypsy tour to Kansas City or any other town she hadn’t approved. Strangely, the audience wasn’t jumping at the chance to bid on this fuming missive, so the night’s director, Richard Jay-Alexander, nabbed it for 400 smackers. Randy and I conspired afterward to try and share custody of it.
She of the flaring nostrils and fiery talent, Lena Horne was the subject of two-time Tony nominee Vivian Reed’s flawlessly sung centennial tribute show at Feinstein’s/54 Below. Reed commanded the stage with fabulous renderings of “Stormy Weather,” “Believe In Yourself,” and other standards associated with Horne. Reed brought her own powerhouse magnetism to the interpretations, making this a Horne well worth tooting, especially since Reed also offered commentary on some of Lena’s triumphs and challenges. At one point, Reed talked about Lena’s collaboration with musician/composer Billy Strayhorn, noting that he was gay, but they had a sexual relationship, which she said deserves a whole show of its own. In the meantime, this show will be done again on February 7 and March 7.