Not So Green with Envy: An Oscars Post Mortem

Oscars 2019 proved that you don’t need a host to produce a watchable awards show but you do need at least a handful charismatic stars, inspiring musical moments, unexpected wins and, of course, heartfelt speeches.

This year’s show featured all of the above and often did it quite well – sometimes a little too well.

There was something ultimately schizophrenic about the show, the choices and the moments the evening offered.  It was as if the members of the Academy were so unsure of what they truly loved this year in cinema that they decided to people please and pick almost everyone from as many films as it could.

See: Green Book

Green Book took home the top prize of best picture while its director, Peter Farrelly, was not even nominated in his category.  Roma won Alfonso Cuaron best director and cinematographer but his movie was passed over for best film.  (Note: It did win foreign film, meaning it’s only the best if…you don’t speak English?).

Spike Lee won his first competitive Oscar trophy ever for co-writing BlackKklansman but was passed over in the director category, as was his film for best picture.

But he did give us one of the best shots from the whole show

Glenn Close, who had already won almost everything during this awards season, became the first actress to be nominated SEVEN times for acting Oscars without a win.   Olivia Colman won best actress for The Favourite in a bit of an upset over the heavily favored Ms. Close (The Wife), while Rami Malek swept in as best actor winner for bringing beloved Queen front man Freddie Mercury back to life onscreen in Bohemian Rhapsody.

We know Glenny.

Though interestingly, neither of the two top actor winners appeared in the movies awarded either best film, director or screenplay, either original or adapted.

Rounding out, or perhaps butter knifing around the gold, Black Panther, the biggest box-office hit nominated, took top prizes for score, production and costume design; A Star Is Born (the second biggest b.o. juggernaut) won best song; and Regina King was bestowed best supporting actress honors for If Beale Street Could Talk.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with spreading the wealth around.  But by the time Green Book was announced as best picture, veteran Oscar watchers couldn’t help but recall that time almost thirty years ago when another middle-of-the-road road movie about race, Driving Miss Daisy, won the best picture prize despite the Academy denying its director, Bruce Beresford, even a nomination in his category.

One supposes it is better for voters to widely disperse the joy rather than to ignore artists like Mr. Lee, whose more cutting edge film on race in 1989, Do The Right Thing, failed to gain either a best picture or director nomination and was subsequently overlooked in one of the few categories it was even nominated for – best original screenplay.  It took three decades but in 2019 the Academy managed to give Mr. Lee just a bit of his competitive due while still denying yet another of his masterpiece movies about race a win in favor of yet another rival film that chose the safer, more benign Driving Miss Daisy-ish route.

Look! They are in a car! How genius!

Whether that compromise was enough (Note: Um, no..) and others got too much (Note: Uh, hella yes..) is for each of us to say this week and then forever hold our pieces because that’s about how long the conversation will remain relevant to anyone given what’s in the zeitgeist these days.

What will hang around a bit longer is the memory of Melissa McCarthy entering the stage in a comic riff on The Favourite’s Queen dragging a train strewn with stuffed bunny rabbits, one of which somehow became situated on her hand and helped her to open an envelope.

Personally, I marveled at the age-defying beauty of actors like Angela Bassett and Paul Rudd, who will respectively turn 61 and 50 this year.  As Rosemary Woodhouse once said about her intimate evening with the Devil: IT CAN’T BE!

But like.. HOW?!

Even better was the opening musical number where the remaining members of Queen, aided greatly by Adam Lambert as its fill-in front man, gave us a soaring song in tribute to Freddie Mercury, whose larger than life image looked on from above.

Equally riveting in a totally different way was when Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper performed a stripped down version of their film’s mega-hit (and now Oscar winner) “Shallow” and managed to turn the Dolby Theatre stage into a master class pairing of artistry and intimacy.

Um… his wife was 5ft away. #icant #THEHEAT

It was also fun to watch Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph goof it up in an elongated comic bit early on and actually prove you can still be fresh and funny on any awards stage.  Ditto Awkwafina and John Mulaney presenting best-animated short.

Was any of this indelibly memorable?  Not exactly, but it was fun and watchable. This may or may not translate into a ratings boost from the all-time low numbers of last year’s Oscar broadcast, which is pretty much all the Academy and network seems to care about at this point anyway.

Welp, there it is.

That and no doubt the fact that in giving Universal’s Green Book this year’s best picture Oscar over Netflix’s Roma, both could breathe a huge collective sigh of relief for denying the streaming giant any more of the industry gold it had already managed to swipe right out from under their collective noses.

Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose (BlacKkKlansman soundtrack) – “Too Late To Turn Back Now”  

The Chair’s Oscar Favourites

You might or might not know that Dwayne The Rock Johnson was first choice to host this year’s oncoming train wreck, um, Oscars and that he was actually going to do it.

In fact, he wanted to open the show headlining a huge song and dance number.

How cool would that have been???

No, I’m not being snide here.   It would’ve been VERY cool. Though granted, that’s a low bar when anything about this year’s Oscars comes up.

One bone-headed decision after another, starting with a proposed best popular film (Note: Is all that money not award enough?); to announcing well-known homophobic tweeter Kevin Hart (Note: Um, yeah, it was all out there on the record, numerous times and in various publications) as its host; to relegating four award categories – editing, cinematography, makeup/hair and live action short – to off-screen status (Note: #AlsoRescinded #Speechless).

I can’t… it’s just beyond

What this leaves us with now is for the second time in its history the Oscars will have no host, a tarnished brand at the hands of its ratings grubbing upper management and a membership and general public that either doesn’t care or is too pissed off at the organization to care to.

Well, in truth it does leave us with one last thing: the awards themselves.

YES! THE AWARDS! THEY ARE SO SHINY!!

The higher purpose of the Oscars has always been to honor excellence at the movies. It might not often succeed in the task but watching the times that it does (Note: And yes, doesn’t) has become an international pastime for decades.

Long before the Academy chose to pimp its brand for ratings, there was still the pose of searching for excellence, of wanting to reward some of the year’s films that surprised us, touched us or simply entertained us in their own unique ways.

It is in the spirit of hoping that the headlines this year will be about which truly memorable films won in the categories they deserved to (Note: Or didn’t but should have) that we present:

THIS YEAR’S CHAIR’S OSCAR PICKS:

Best Picture

“Black Panther”
“BlacKkKlansman”
“Bohemian Rhapsody”
“The Favourite”
“Green Book”
“Roma”
“A Star Is Born”
“Vice”

Everyone is saying this is the toughest best picture field in years to predict. Maybe. Or maybe we’re overthinking it.

For my money, “BlacKkKlansman” was the best of the year. Great story telling, fantastic directing, artistic in all departments, original where it could have been obvious and, perish the thought, a timely message.

This is not the say the other films don’t have their merits. They do (Note: Well, most of them. Don’t get me started on Cheney). However, it feels like “Roma” is the inevitable winner here. It’s lush and different and addresses race and class in the more muted manner the Academy en masse tends to respond to.

Had there not been so much controversy about the veracity of the facts in “Green Book” there might be a different outcome. But this will not be so.

P.S. Cinema purists will be heard ranting and raving everywhere for days afterwards when Netflix picks up its first best picture win. They are the same types of people who swore talkies and TV would kill the movies.

Directing

Who will bring home the gold?

Spike Lee, “BlacKkKlansman”
Pawel Pawlikowski, “Cold War”
Yorgos Lanthimos, “The Favourite”
Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma”
Adam McKay, “Vice”

I will repeat past pronouncements – this is Spike Lee’s FIRST EVER directing Oscar nomination. Truthfully, he should win and had he not been nominated this year in the adapted screenplay category he’d have a solid shot. But it feels like Alfonso Cuarón will win for a memory piece that has managed to touch people in numerous and very different ways. Though I was not one of them, the grandeur of “Roma” and the awards he’s already received from so many other organizations make his win here almost inevitable.

Lead Actor

For this scene alone, most likely

Christian Bale, “Vice”
Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born”
Willem Dafoe, “At Eternity’s Gate”
Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Viggo Mortensen, “Green Book”

Every one of these actors had great moments in their nominated films. But Rami Malek’s performance transcended the film and seemed to literally bring long deceased and beloved Queen front man Freddie Mercury back to life. Not only that, he did it in a joyful way, a gift that should never be underestimated in today’s marketplace of despai…Okay, let’s not go there.

FYI, they should have found a spot to at least nominate Ethan Hawke for a career-making performance in “First Reformed.”

Lead Actress

Get ready to kiss her again, Gaga

Yalitza Aparicio, “Roma”
Glenn Close, “The Wife”
Olivia Colman, “The Favourite”
Lady Gaga, “A Star Is Born”
Melissa McCarthy, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

This is the seventh Oscar nomination for acting Glenn Close has received. She has never won. Keep repeating that to yourself and watch the instantaneous standing ovation when her name is called.

And yes, she was quite good in “The Wife.”

Supporting Actor

Put it in the books

Mahershala Ali, “Green Book”
Adam Driver, “BlacKkKlansman”
Sam Elliott, “A Star Is Born”
Richard E. Grant, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Sam Rockwell, “Vice”

It should be Richard E. Grant for taking what could have been an easy cliché of an early 90s gay man and turning him into something bittersweet and brilliant. He wasn’t written cliché but, well, you know these things have been known to happen.

Still, that isn’t the point here. Mahershala Ali will likely pick up his second Oscar in this category for a focused, committed and nuanced performance of another type of gay man. Someone a bit more heroic, talented and certainly a lot better dressed.

Supporting Actress

Oscar King

Amy Adams, “Vice”
Marina de Tavira, “Roma”
Regina King, “If Beale Street Could Talk”
Emma Stone, “The Favourite”
Rachel Weisz, “The Favourite”

It will be nice to see an actress as talented as Regina King pick up the Oscar for portraying a three-dimensional character of a Black mom in “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Her solid performance gave the film a weight and a foundation and for that, as well as for all the nuance she brought, she will be rewarded.

If the Academy were to go another way there would be nothing wrong with rewarding Amy Adams for her terrifying take on Lynne (Mrs. Dick) Cheney. She actually managed to almost humanize her. (almost)

Animated Feature

“Incredibles 2”
“Isle of Dogs”
“Mirai”
“Ralph Breaks the Internet”
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”

This is a no brainer for anyone wanting a shot at winning this year’s Oscar pool.   “Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse” WILL win.

Documentary Feature

Still thinking about this scene #goRuthgo

“Free Solo”
“Hale County This Morning, This Evening”
“Minding the Gap”
“Of Fathers and Sons”
“RBG”

Tough one. “Free Solo” feels like the best piece of filmmaking but seriously, whenever the world underestimates Ruth Bader Ginsberg the RBG effect kicks in and it’s usually for the good of all. Besides, it’s a charming story of a one of a kind warrior. So go with “RBG.” Not to mention, don’t you think the MAJORITY of Academy voters want to see HER on the Oscar stage?

Foreign Language Film

Which Black and White epic will it be?

“Capernaum” (Lebanon)
“Cold War” (Poland)
“Never Look Away” (Germany)
“Roma” (Mexico)
“Shoplifters” (Japan)

I’m going out on a limb and picking one of my favorite films of the year – “Cold War.” Any director who can tell his parents love story and keep it sick, dysfunctional, sexy and scary is okay in my book. Perhaps it’s silly for the Academy to award “Roma” best picture and not give it the win here but, then again, isn’t it silly to vote for it in both?

Adapted Screenplay

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Joel Coen , Ethan Coen
“BlacKkKlansman,” Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
“If Beale Street Could Talk,” Barry Jenkins
“A Star Is Born,” Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters

My premise: “BlackKklansman” is deserving in this category but a win here would be one way Academy voters can finally give Spike Lee an Oscar win without having to go too far out on a limb and deny Cuarón the best director Oscar for “Roma.”

FYI, “Can You Ever Forgive Me” was an equally good screenplay in an entirely different way and would also certainly deserve the win here. And after winning the WGA award, is certainly a dark horse choice.

Original Screenplay

Sigh

“The Favourite,” Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
“First Reformed,” Paul Schrader
“Green Book,” Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly
“Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón
“Vice,” Adam McKay

This is usually my favorite category (ahem) and this year it’s the one I like the least. I just didn’t find either “Vice” or “Roma” to be particularly good screenplays. “The Favourite” was too in love with how naughty it was being. “Green Book” seemed like a film from the 1980s but not in a good way.

That leaves “First Reformed” which, truly, SHOULD win. It had the type of originality and intelligence we don’t get often enough onscreen anymore. Not to mention this is the FIRST OSCAR NOMINATION for it screenwriter, Paul Schrader? The guy who write “Taxi Driver, “Raging Bull” “Hardcore,” “American Gigolo,” etc. etc.?

Yeah, but, um, he likely won’t win. The members of the Academy en masse are too in love with the pose of being naughty rather than the actual real life naughtiness Mr. Schrader markets in. Therefore, look out for the writers of “The Favourite” to pick up their undeserved Oscar.

Cinematography

OK OK it wins

“Cold War,” Lukasz Zal
“The Favourite,” Robbie Ryan
“Never Look Away,” Caleb Deschanel
“Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón
“A Star Is Born,” Matthew Libatique

It’s Cuarón for “Roma.” Yup, he shot it too.   And I agree, it looks beautiful and it’s haunting. Just make it stop.

Costume Design

WAKANDA FOREVER

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Mary Zophres
“Black Panther,” Ruth E. Carter
“The Favourite,” Sandy Powell
“Mary Poppins Returns,” Sandy Powell
“Mary Queen of Scots,” Alexandra Byrne

I’m just gonna say it – Ruth Carter should win for making Wakanda come alive in “Black Panther.” And I’m picking her for the win. Logic says that it’s always one of those royal so and sos that swoop in on a cloud of crinoline and steal the whole shebang. But let’s count on the Academy not being stupid enough to do it this time since there are two queens competing in this category. That we know of.

Film Editing

“BlacKkKlansman,” Barry Alexander Brown
“Bohemian Rhapsody,” John Ottman
“Green Book,” Patrick J. Don Vito
“The Favourite,” Yorgos Mavropsaridis
“Vice,” Hank Corwin

It feels like all the musical mash-ups in “Bohemian Rhapsody” give it the edge so let’s give that film the nod – along with its editor John Ottman. #Galillelo!! #Galilelo!!! #Galilelo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Makeup and Hairstyling

It pains me to even post this picture #shiversdownmyspine

“Border”
“Mary Queen of Scots”
“Vice”

The only thing that could get me to vote for “Vice” is a team of people (Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe and Patricia Dehaney) that can make a hot actor like Christian Bale morph believably into the hideous gargoyle creature we refer to as Dick Cheney. Would that such things were not possible.

Original Song

Admit it, just seeing this pic makes you start to sing it in your head

“All The Stars” from “Black Panther” by Kendrick Lamar, SZA
“I’ll Fight” from “RBG” by Diane Warren, Jennifer Hudson
“The Place Where Lost Things Go” from “Mary Poppins Returns” by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman
“Shallow” from “A Star Is Born” by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, Andrew Wyatt and Benjamin Rice
“When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” from “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch

 “…In the sha-a-a-allow…we’re far from the shallow now….”   Gaga deserves it. Get used to it.

Original Score

“BlacKkKlansman,” Terence Blanchard
“Black Panther,” Ludwig Goransson
“If Beale Street Could Talk,” Nicholas Britell
“Isle of Dogs,” Alexandre Desplat
“Mary Poppins Returns,” Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman

The “Black Panther” score had the kind of verve and sense of purpose that made Wakanda come alive. This is, however, a close category and any four of the five nominees could win. #MaryWontBeReturning.

Production Design

“Black Panther,” Hannah Beachler
“First Man,” Nathan Crowley, Kathy Lucas
“The Favourite,” Fiona Crombie, Alice Felton
“Mary Poppins Returns,” John Myhre, Gordon Sim
“Roma,” Eugenio Caballero, Bárbara Enrı́quez

Ugh. Fine. “The Favourite.” Here you go, Fiona Crombie.   Go rent another castle.

It’s the truth, honey!

Sound Editing

“Black Panther,” Benjamin A. Burtt, Steve Boeddeker
“Bohemian Rhapsody,” John Warhurst
“First Man,” Ai-Ling Lee, Mildred Iatrou Morgan
“A Quiet Place,” Ethan Van der Ryn, Erik Aadahl
“Roma,” Sergio Diaz, Skip Lievsay

Well, I mean, who knows? Do you? But since “A Quiet Place” is a movie all about not being able to make sound, let’s not choose that. It’s too quiet! So maybe the first man on the moon? Again, there’s not much sound in space.   So I’m thinking….

Thunderbolts and lightning, Very, very frightening!!!! – “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Sound Mixing

“Black Panther”
“Bohemian Rhapsody”
“First Man”
“Roma”
“A Star Is Born”

Scaramouche, scaramouche, can you hear the…”Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Visual Effects

“Avengers: Infinity War”
“Christopher Robin”
“First Man”
“Ready Player One”
“Solo: A Star Wars Story”

If a biopic about famed astronaut Neil Armstrong can’t win the visual effects Oscar, well….don’t worry, it will. “First Man.”

You’re welcome, Ryan.

Animated Short Film

Adorable

“Animal Behaviour,” Alison Snowden, David Fine
“Bao,” Domee Shi
“Late Afternoon,” Louise Bagnall
“One Small Step,” Andrew Chesworth, Bobby Pontillas
“Weekends,” Trevor Jimenez

I’ve actually watched them all and it’s a strange lot this year. There is only one even vaguely happy entry – “Bao.” It’s sweet and touching and for my money, the best of the five. Some say there is a Pixar backlash but I don’t think it’ll matter. Still, if you’re looking for a second choice go with “Weekends.”

Live Action Short Film

“Detainment,” Vincent Lambe
“Fauve,” Jeremy Comte
“Marguerite,” Marianne Farley
“Mother,” Rodrigo Sorogoyen
“Skin,” Guy Nattiv

I like dramatic shorts more than anyone but yeesh, this was a disturbingly sad bunch. “Detainment” was clearly the most riveting but there was some controversy in the telling of this real life story. “Skin” ultimately became predictable though it was well-acted. That leaves “Marguerite,” the kind of slice of life story that might just squeak through. They could do worse and just might when the winner is revealed. 

Documentary Short Subject

“Black Sheep,” Ed Perkins
“End Game,” Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
“Lifeboat,” Skye Fitzgerald
“A Night at the Garden,” Marshall Curry
“Period. End of Sentence.,” Rayka Zehtabchi

This is an eclectic group where any one of the five could win. “A Night at the Garden” is brilliant and timely though it’s really found footage that’s been assembled. On the other hand, there’s never been a film about trying to educate women in India about sanitary pads and how to make and distribute them on their own. So let’s go with “Period. End of Sentence.” And not just because it’s the snappiest way to end this post…even though it is.

“Shallow” – Gaga & Cooper in Vegas

The Remedy?

If you came here looking for commentary on yet another Academy bone-headed decision that was reversed this week… or perhaps a different bonehead declaring a national emergency… hold tight, Chairy fans. The Chair is suffering through the world’s worst bout with seasonal sinus troubles and will be taking this week off.

Fear not — next week is the Oscars, and you know the Chair will rally. IT’S. THE. OSCARS… plus Bette Midler just announced she’ll be performing (I think I hear the Chair’s sinuses clearing already).

Send the Chair a wish of good health or an Oscar prediction, if you dare: @notesfromachair (Twitter and Insta!)

For now, he’ll be blasting this and readying his comeback.

Till then…

Jason Mraz – “The Remedy”

Chair-side Grammys

Sometimes you just have to unwind, listen to some music, just BE. This week, the Chair is doing just that (and after you finish reading this, consider joining him).

Thankfully for the Chair (and us), during the whirlwind that is awards season, there is an anecdote. An over-the-top, overproduced, glitzy, rockstar affair — stuffed to the brim with so many production numbers, you almost forget awards are being given out (they still do that right?). Love it or hate it, it’s a glamorous distraction and who among us couldn’t use that right now?

The Chair has hand picked some of his favorite Grammy-nominated tunes — a truly eclectic mix of bops and classics (Spotify link here and below!). Here’s why he thinks you should tune in tonight and take a much needed break from our less glamorous reality:

Cardi B – “I Like It”

She makes me laugh.  Hysterical, uncensored, smart, hard working and great rhymer.  Check out her Carpool Karaoke with James Corden.  It’s hilarious.

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper – “Shallow” (from A Star is Born soundtrack)

Because, well… seriously?

Also don’t sleep on her last album’s title song, “Joanne” — heartbreaking and beautiful. Gaga just nails it.

I don’t find this annoying. Am I alone?

Janelle Monae – album: Dirty Computer

She embraces the raw, sweatiness of desire and gayness.  Also, it’s just a great album.

YES JANELLE YES  #pynk

Greta Van Fleet – “When the Curtain Falls”

Yes, I saw them on SNL.  Kind of like if Robert Plant were a bit more Emo and from the midwest.. and I mean that in a good way

Led Zeppelin realness

Bettye Lavette – “Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight” 

This is a wonderful rendition of an old Bob Dylan song.  And the Obamas LOVE her… and that’s good enough for me #COMEBACK44

Remember when our President appreciated music.. and art… and enjoyed any aspect of life? REMEMBER? #OKImSpiraling #refocus

Joan Baez – “Whistle down the Wind”

The song is a cover of an old Tom Waits tune – and yes, she still does it for me. It’s her nine millionth album at age 77.  I did a report on her in high school and my teacher accused me of being in love with her.  Still am 40 years later.

Timeless

Sufjan Stevens – “Visions of Gideon” (from Call Me By Your Name soundtrack)

That final credit sequence! Elio! Oliver! Elio! Yep, still crying.

#ChalametwasRobbed

And here’s the Chair’s first official Spotify playlist. Listen along and tune in/tune out (your choice!)

 

Dressing Up / Dressing Down

This week a photo popped up from the 1984 medical school yearbook page of Virginia’s Gov. Ralph Northam of two White classmates – one in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robes.

Gov. Northam initially said he was one of the young men in the picture, then quickly recanted and said he was mistaken. Then in a Saturday press conference he apologized anyway, noting the photo was offensive and racist but adding he himself had not looked at the yearbook in more than 30 years and that his memory was not entirely clear.

He then further added, or rather admitted, that the very same year – 1984 – he did indeed do blackface as Michael Jackson when he entered a dance contest in San Antonio.  The governor, a medical school graduate whose yearbook nickname was Coon Man, was 25 years old at the time.

So. Many. Questions.

There have been many calls for the governor to step down but as of now he refuses, stating: I cannot in good conscience choose the path that would be easier for me to duck the responsibility to reconcile.  Coincidentally, his lieutenant governor, the person who would replace him, is Justin Fairfax, a Black man.  Both are Democrats.

Racist actions, racist jokes, and racism generally have no party affiliation, class distinction or sexual persuasion.  On the other hand, given Electoral College POTUS’s statement of “…you had people that were very fine people, on both sides,” after the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. eighteen months ago and the proliferation of hate crimes across the country since by various white people shouting or wearing hats trumpeting Trump’s Republican clarion call of Make America Great Again, it is hard not to see this as otherwise.

That boy’s smirk will forever be imprinted on my brain

This is particularly true when one watches news footage of the Charlottesville rally and takes in the anti-Semitic taunts (Jews will not replace us!), the proliferation of White males wielding torches, some in hoods and robes, and the death of one young woman there to protest these actions that was mowed down and murdered by a car driven through the crowd by one of those supremacists.

It almost makes you long for the days of Gov. Northam’s blackface.

Well, almost.

Definitely #TooSoon

Speaking of the mid-1980’s, here’s a story:

Around that time, I was invited to a Halloween party.  I was close to Gov. Northam’s age and as such was also a bit enamored with performers whose look and talents I admired but could never measure up to in real life.

As an out gay guy I longed to do something outrageous but I was not yet ready to dress up as Liza Minnelli.  Still, my sister had left her black sequined blazer in my hall closet and somehow I had asked her if it was okay to use it to play dress up.  Being who she was (and I was), the answer was an immediate and overenthusiastic YES!!!!!!

You know I would have slayed

But who to go as??  Sorry, Liza was (still) out because I was not THAT out.  Yet.  Though I’m not even sure I’m that out now, which I suppose is its own kind of self-loathing.  But I was determined to use the jacket because, well, it was so, so… faaaabulous.

Wait, I have it, I thought.  I’ll do….

BILLY PRESTON!!!

This was a very versatile jacket

Who?????, you millennials might say?  Well, Billy Preston was a big pop star in the seventies and eighties that toured with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Little Richard, and had a series of hit records that included Nothing From Nothing, Will It Go Round in Circles and a duet with Syreeta Wright called With You (I’m Born Again).

Better yet, he wore sparkly jackets as loud and even louder than the one in my closet, had great hair (as I did at the time) was about my height and even rumored to be…gay!!!!

It was a no brainer.  I was going to be Billy.

Um, this story is making us nervous, Chairy.

So being the gay that I am I did several pre-rehearsals of the outfit days before with the jacket.  Only to get just the right pants, shirt and glasses to go with it. (Ahem) I gotta admit, it was pretty good.  But something was not quite right.  Hmmm.  Well, maybe….the hair.

Billy Preston not only had good hair but was known for BIG hair.  I mean, HUUUUUUGE.  Like a ginormous Afro.  I felt a little uncomfortable but this was my one chance to be comfortable being a little flamboyant.  So I went to a costume store on Hollywood Boulevard and bought the biggest and cheapest Afro wig I could find.  When I got home and put it on I gotta admit (once again), it and I looked….fabulous.

OK well, not AS GOOD as Billy

Still, on the night of the party, and me being the insecure gay that I was, um, am, I  began thinking, I could do better.  Looking in the mirror I saw this was really good but in my heart of hearts I knew this COULD BE….great!!!!

There was one basic physical difference between Billy and I, aside from our fingers’ ability to glide across the piano keys from one end to the other and, who was I kidding, it had to do with skin color.  I bent down in the closet, below the full-length mirror, and opened a wooden box I kept inside with a carving of the insole of a shoe and spied a cornucopia of POLISH.  Black, brown, taupe, white…No, it absolutely had to be Black!!!

And then….I STOPPED.

Um, Chair (Note: Not my name at the time but I’ve changed it to protect the guilty), what the hell are you doing???  Are you kidding???  You can’t!!!!

AHHHHH!!

Still, I longed to go that extra yard, to make that difference.  To be fabulous.  And really, who would know?  Just a handful of people at that party.

As I reached for the polish it was like the ghosts of every Black performer and person I ever knew slapped my hand down and gave me the stink eye.

I don’t think so, they collectively warned.  You will NOT have that thrill.  You CANNOT use this to get yourself off for five minutes and call it a day.  You WILL not.

Oh thank god #relieved

And so, I quickly closed the box, shamed I had ever thought about it.  More than 30 years later I am ashamed, to this day.  Only now I am actually appalled, so appalled I hesitated to recount this story.

We are all flawed and we ALL have our prejudices.  Some are right out there, some are just below the surface and others are so deeply engrained that we still fail to this day, to even recognize them, much less cop to them.

But here’s the bottom line to the Northam argument:

You can have murderous thoughts – we all do from time to time in our lives.  But that doesn’t make you a murderer.

This is helping me process Zac Efron as Ted Bundy.. keep going

You can also have racist instincts, sexist desires or homophobic leanings, but this will not make you any of those isms.  Unless you ACT OUT on them.

And the good news is that even if you do ACT OUT there is hope.  You can admit what you’ve done, take your lumps and chastisement, work to do better, go out of your way to make amends, and then remind yourself many times over in perpetuity that you will always NEED to do better in this area, and then pass on that message to others.

What makes you guilty, and one of the ISMS, is when you mumble and gurgle and squirm, twisting yourself into an amnesiac pretzel, all in the name of self-preservation.

Bye Gurl. Bye Boi.

If we’re to survive as a country of honest to goodness humans (Note: And so far the jury is out), we all need to rip the Band-Aid off and take our medicine before the collective We can get any better.

This doesn’t make me of any one of the rest of us much better than the Electoral College POTUS or Gov. Northam.  Just more evolved and self-aware than we were when this all started.  Which is at least a start in itself.

Billy Preston – “Nothing from Nothing”