The Golden Globes, America’s drunkest awards show, delivered on all fronts last night. Between the Farrows tweeting about Woody Allen, Reese Witherspoon describing 12 Years a Slave as a Best Picture candidate, or E!’s red carpet “fun fact” about Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s diagnosis, there was plenty to be annoyed about. But it was the acceptance speeches that were probably the most memorably awkward and, to be honest, slightly offensive.
I’m not talking about when Jennifer Lawrence forgot to thank the editor of American Hustle for crafting her actual performance. Or whatever the hell Jaqueline Bisset was on. Or even the thing that annoyed me the most: the fact that while the Golden Globes were taking place, Pitchfork announced that Christine McVie will rejoin Fleetwood Mac, and nobody even bothered to thank her. (Doesn’t Hollywood know how much McVie has done for all of us?) The most uncomfortable moments came from Hollywood’s legion of straight white men who, while congratulating themselves and each other, felt the need to mention — without even a hint of self-awareness — how fun, wild, and nutty it is to play characters with drastically different identities from their own.
I’ll forgive Alfonso Cuaron for the heavily accented herpes joke (that’s comedy gold, people!). And while it was fairly unwise for Leonardo DiCaprio to give a shout-out to the real-life Jordan Belfort for “making this story possible,” I’m too exhausted by The Wolf of Wall Street Culture Wars from two weeks ago to even think too hard about it. But there were three speeches in particular that rubbed me the wrong way: those given by Dallas Buyers Club stars Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey and Behind the Candelabra‘s Michael Douglas.
FIrst of all, there’s Jared Leto, who described his role as a transgender woman with AIDS was “transformative” (get it?) before commenting on all of the work he did to prepare for the film: namely, having his body hair waxed. He also bragged that his “Brazilian butt” was not a prosthetic. Meanwhile, McConaughey’s acceptance speech was full of his trademark Texas swagger; he quoted his wife referring to him as “McConaughey, my man, my king” and riffed on his famous Dazed and Confused catchphrase to describe Dallas Buyers Club as a movie about living, not dying (despite, spoiler alert, his character does, in fact, die of AIDS by the end of the film, so…). Both speeches were unfortunate; here, two straight white men win yet again for playing characters afflicted with a disease that wiped out millions of people, the vast majority of whom were not straight white men. Is it too much to ask that, even at Hollywood’s “most irreverent” awards show, there be some respectful acknowledgement of the real-life people whose struggles and eventual deaths provided Leto and McConaughey the chance to play these characters and eventually win awards for their work?
Things were no better in the TV categories, when Michael Douglas stepped up to collect his Golden Globe for his portrayal of piano virtuoso and flittering camp icon Liberace in Steven Soderbergh’s HBO biopic. While he did not, much to the dismay of many amateur jokesters in my Twitter feed, mention “getting cancer from eating out his wife so much” (I’m quoting, verbatim, tweets from two separate people, by the way), he did reminisce about an interaction between him and his director on the set of Traffic:
One day we were doing a scene, and I caught him looking at me pensively. And he said, “Have you ever thought about Liberace?” Now of course, the paranoid actor that I was, I thought maybe I was mincing a little bit in the part that I was doing.
[Pause for laughter.]
I’ve previously expressed my disdain for Behind the Candelabra, which I didn’t enjoy even as a campy comedy (for one thing, deliberate camp is not camp, but that’s another essay). It bugged me that the film seemed to be entirely designed for a gleeful look at two straight dudes playing gay. It bugged me that, without taking a contextual look at Liberace’s life and career and the era in which it all took place, the film seemed to shame him more for not being out than for his predatory sexual relationships with younger men. It bugged me that the one openly gay actor in the film, Cheyenne Jackson, didn’t get a line; his role was reduced to a couple of annoyed huffs and sneers.
So it was with much eye-rolling that I watched Douglas’ acceptance speech, sandwiched between Leto’s Brazilian waxing jokes and McConaughey’s typical breezy self-satisfaction. All three speeches made me wonder how differently these films would have been received had they not starred charming, handsome, and especially straight A-list actors. Would they have gotten made at all? It’s debatable. Would queer or transgender actors have brought something different to their roles? No doubt. Would they have perhaps added more dimensions to the characters they were playing? It’s very likely. Would they have deepened the political context of their roles, bringing to them an understanding that the personal is the political? Would they have realized that you cannot simply step up on the Golden Globes stage and disregard the identity-based struggles of these complex characters who put golden trophies in actors’ hands?