Jodie Foster broke the internet. That’s what happens when you are globally famous, drunk, accompanied by a persona non grata (one Mel Gibson) and come out as a gay person… again… sort of. Jodie was being honored with the annual Cecil B Demille award, a lifetime achievement prize earned at the young age of 50 (we’ve been celebrating her birthday lately right here) and her acceptance speech won the night’s most important intangible prize “Most Talked About”.
Why? Because it mattered.
Watching this storied actress battle with her past self and its direct conflict with The Way Things Are Now was amazing live television. We were watching deeply personal internal backstory play out as a public Living History right there on the television, intoxicated and intoxicating.
Consider that the reclusive actress/director also pretended to eat a stuffed animal just moments before the speech and that that was not the takeaway or the headline or even the meme the next day! But let’s not get distracted as it was so easy to do during Jodie’s mammoth whatishappening offkilter address to the showbiz nation which ABC transcribed for us.
“Well, for all of you ‘SNL’ fans, I’m 50! I’m 50! You know, I need to do that without this dress on, but you know, maybe later at Trader Vic’s, boys and girls. What do you say? I’m 50! You know, I was going to bring my walker tonight but it just didn’t go with the cleavage.”
“Robert [Downey Jr.], I want to thank you for everything: for your bat-crazed, rapid-fire brain, the sweet intro. I love you and Susan and I am so grateful that you continually talk me off the ledge when I go on and foam at the mouth and say, ‘I’m done with acting, I’m done with acting, I’m really done, I’m done, I’m done.’”
“Trust me, 47 years in the film business is a long time. You just ask those Golden Globes, because you crazy kids, you’ve been around here forever. You know, Phil you’re a nut, Aida, Scott — thank you for honoring me tonight. It is the most fun party of the year, and tonight I feel like the prom queen. Thank you. Looking at all those clips, you know, the hairdos and the freaky platform shoes, it’s like a home-movie nightmare that just won’t end, and all of these people sitting here at these tables, they’re my family of sorts, you know. Fathers mostly. Executives, producers, the directors, my fellow actors out there, we’ve giggled through love scenes, we’ve punched and cried and spit and vomited and blown snot all over one another — and those are just the costars I liked.”
“But, you know, more than anyone else, I share my most special memories with members of the crew. Blood-shaking friendships, brothers and sisters. We made movies together, and you can’t get more intimate than that.”
“So while I’m here being all confessional, I guess I have a sudden urge to say something that I’ve never really been able to air in public. So, a declaration that I’m a little nervous about but maybe not quite as nervous as my publicist right now, huh Jennifer? But I’m just going to put it out there, right? Loud and proud, right? So I’m going to need your support on this. I am single. Yes I am, I am single. No, I’m kidding — but I mean I’m not really kidding, but I’m kind of kidding. I mean, thank you for the enthusiasm. Can I get a wolf whistle or something?”
[Audio goes out]
“…be a big coming-out speech tonight because I already did my coming out about a thousand years ago back in the Stone Age, in those very quaint days when a fragile young girl would open up to trusted friends and family and co-workers and then gradually, proudly to everyone who knew her, to everyone she actually met. But now I’m told, apparently, that every celebrity is expected to honor the details of their private life with a press conference, a fragrance and a prime-time reality show. You know, you guys might be surprised, but I am not Honey Boo Boo Child. No, I’m sorry, that’s just not me. It never was and it never will be. Please don’t cry because my reality show would be so boring. I would have to make out with Marion Cotillard or I’d have to spank Daniel Craig’s bottom just to stay on the air. It’s not bad work if you can get it, though.”
“But seriously, if you had been a public figure from the time that you were a toddler, if you’d had to fight for a life that felt real and honest and normal against all odds, then maybe you too might value privacy above all else. Privacy.”
“Someday, in the future, people will look back and remember how beautiful it once was. I have given everything up there from the time that I was 3-years-old. That’s reality-show enough, don’t you think? There are a few secrets to keeping your psyche intact over such a long career. The first, love people and stay beside them.”
“That table over there, 222, way out in Idaho, Paris, Stockholm, that one, next to the bathroom with all the unfamous faces, the very same faces for all these years. My acting agent, Joe Funicello — Joe, do you believe it, 38 years we’ve been working together? Even though he doesn’t count the first eight. Matt Saver, Pat Kingsley, Jennifer Allen, Grant Niman and his uncle Jerry Borack, may he rest in peace. Lifers. My family and friends here tonight and at home, and of course, Mel Gibson. You know you save me too.”
“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, consigliere, most beloved BFF of 20 years, Cydney Bernard. Thank you, Cyd. I am so proud of our modern family. Our amazing sons, Charlie and Kit, who are my reason to breathe and to evolve, my blood and soul. And boys, in case you didn’t know it, this song, all of this, this song is for you. This brings me to the greatest influence of my life, my amazing mother, Evelyn. Mom, I know you’re inside those blue eyes somewhere and that there are so many things that you won’t understand tonight.”
“But this is the only important one to take in: I love you, I love you, I love you. 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. Please take that with you when you’re finally OK to go. You see, Charlie and Kit, sometimes your mom loses it too. I can’t help but get moony, you know. This feels like the end of one era and the beginning of something else. Scary and exciting and now what?”
“Well, I may never be up on this stage again, on any stage for that matter. Change, you gotta love it. I will continue to tell stories, to move people by being moved, the greatest job in the world. It’s just that from now on, I may be holding a different talking stick. And maybe it won’t be as sparkly, maybe it won’t open on 3,000 screens, maybe it will be so quiet and delicate that only dogs can hear it whistle. But it will be my writing on the wall. Jodie Foster was here, I still am, and I want to be seen, to be understood deeply and to be not so very lonely. Thank you, all of you, for the company. Here’s to the next 50 years.”
In the history book chapters on the LGBT movement this one will be fascinating to see juxtaposed with Ellen Degeneres's very different bullhorn admission on magazine covers and her own television show so many years ago. That “Yep, I’m gay”, a double coming out which equated the public self (Ellen) with the private (Ellen Lee DeGeneres) opened the floodgates. I’m guessing that Jodie shuddered at the time given her feelings about mixing the two and her own privileged sense of ownership of her own life... her continual preferencing of her own comfort above her community's. And yet here she is all these years later, awkwardly but willfully performing her own Coming Out but still bristling that she feels compelled to do so.
While it’s true that Jodie has mentioned her former partner Cydney once or twice before publicly, those mentions have always been grossly overstated by those who wanted to claim her as an Out Celebrity and they've always been non-televised… which is an important distinction when it comes to the famous. She’s never stated her gayness THIS publicly. I had hoped that the sudden audio dropout – I believe we missed a whole sentence or two – was merely a cable glitch here in NYC but ABC accounts for it in the transcript. It happened at the worst possible moment in the speech when she transitioned from coyly joking about coming out (“I’m single!”) to rationalizing her lack of coming out through her continual private honesty. The LGBT community understands this better than their hetero counterparts but it’s impossible NOT to be politicized as a gay person. If you come out, others condemn you for politicizing your private life (read: making them uncomfortable) but if you don't you contribute, however non-malevolently its intended, to the repression and the homophobia that flourishes through societally-condoned ignorance.
Was that audio-dropped sentence the simple declaration that the LGBT community always wanted from her, a 'Yep, I'm gay' or just merely more talking around it? Jodie Foster is hardly the only closeted celebrity to have indulged in the maddeningly coy but basically honest tactic of never lying about your sexuality but for the lie of pretending it does not exist.
Yet when you read her speech back it suddenly doesn’t sound as incoherent or as dodgy as you remember it but braver... or at least more personal. Jodie Foster has never been fully at peace with the public nature of her life and she's fought so valiantly about that stance that you have to respect her for it, even if you've been angry enough to judge her for her silence over the years (as I and others have). Most celebrities who claim the right to privacy are crying wolf -- they'll talk about their marriage or the kid or their colonoscopy or whathaveyou in every interview but if a subject comes up they don't like they'll suddenly invoke their love of privacy. Really but you just said...?). But not Jodie. She's actually meant it. (Any more pliable or more people-pleasing actress than Jodie, would have been entirely undone and defined by the John Hinckley Jr story but in her absolute refusal to engage, it became a footnote).
I don't mean to equate a bizarre peripheral scandal that intruded on someone's life to their personal sexual orientation but when I draw the nonsensical squiggly lines between the two and her other peculiarly stubborn ways (see also: Mel Gibson), a clear portrait of the fierce actress begins to emerge. All things have a shadow side and her sense of entitlement to herself, damn all the rest, which may have saved her in many ways over the years, has done nothing to make life easier for other gay people, strangers and loved ones alike. But last night, she stumbled beautifully towards neutral ground and shared space. No one can claim that Jodie Foster didn't stay Jodie Foster last night. She clung as stubbornly as ever to that guarded sense of Self but with her one free hand she reached out to loved ones, publicly acknowledged their gift to her life, and layed an open hand right there on the world's table for everyone to see. Our move.
Here's to the next 50, indeed.
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previously on our Jodie's 50th birthday celebration: "Do you have a boyfriend?" Jodie at 17; "You wanna get high on Ripple?" Jodie in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore; Playing Dress Up Jodie in Bugsy Malone; Sex & Sensibility Jodie in Maverick; "Acting shouldn't be your own form of therapy" Jodie at 25; Jodie is Wrong on the mandatory price of fame