Double Trouble

I’m finding it an especially interesting time in history to be gay and Jewish.

I say interesting because I don’t live in a war zone, my life is not in danger and my general risk of being leveled for either on an average day in Hollywood involves someone making a nasty remark about me or my kind within earshot.

I don’t make the rules

For the latter they’d get an earful from me and this might affect my safety if I get unlucky enough to talk back to a crazy person, as my sister constantly reminds me. 

But it’s a calculated risk I’m willing to take (Note: Among so many, these days) since that’s pretty much been my behavior my entire life.

… and I’m stickin’ to it!

Of course, in a moment my life can radically change. 

The Ukrainian people are currently living testimony to that.  So is the history of each generation of gays and Jews that came before me.

Ukraine gets slowly reduced to rubble daily by Russian mortar ordered by an anti-Semitic dictator who paradoxically claims to only to want to stop the Nazification of Ukraine by doing this.

But, well, Ukraine’s Pres. Zelenskyy is Jewish and he won in a landslide in a general election so, um…where is the logic in that?   

proceed…

There is none except the logic of disinformation.  There is also the idea that in order to achieve the greater goal of safety (nee dictatorship-like domination) we can use whatever means or illogical argument necessary to destroy the lives of those less powerful. 

It’s enough to get you thinking, which is the last thing any dictator or politician bent on rolling back the rights of any minority wants.

To whit, the Florida Senate and House last week passed a bill now generally referred to as the Don’t Say Gay Bill even though it’s official title is the Parental Rights In Education Bill.  #Tricky.

Here we go

Essentially what this bill says is that there can be no mention whatsoever about gender identity or sexual orientation in the classroom, which includes the use of the word gay.  It also lets any parent sue any teacher or school that allows it.

That methodology didn’t work well for the 1990s relic of a bill about gays in the military, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and will be even worse here. 

I say this as both a teacher and a former third-grader. 

The minute anyone told me I couldn’t saya word as an 8-year-old boy was the moment I managed to say it.  Never mind my behavior as a teacher.

You know I’m pressing that button

This is why I so appreciate and love the response of Hollywood celebs to the inverted logic of this disinformation campaign/bill.  And it probably accounts for why I decades ago relocated to the left coast to begin with.

And to my knowledge, none of the three of them are even GAY!

I will spare you what me and my fellow gays are saying.  Though I’m sure if you searched far and wide, or merely called a few names in the membership roster of the Log Cabin Republican Clubs nationwide, you’d find some supporters of that bill.

No minorities are monolithic in their opinions of what to like and/or support.

I, for one, am one of the few gays who never got Sex and the City; wasn’t a fan of Britney Spears or Madonna; and truly dislikes the work and persona of Andy Cohen and every Housewives TV series that he has poisoned the earth with.

God he is so rich

However, I am not so threatened that I’d engage in disinformation or twisted logic in order to prove my point to try and stop them. 

You might argue that the stakes on that aren’t as high but have you seen the scientific studies on what occurs in the  human brain after watching a dozen or more episodes of Watch What Happens Live?

It’s something like this

The point is when you try to exterminate words and thoughts and people on the basis of the category they fit into you’ve planted your feet atop a very slippery slope of morality and logic.

Many young people these days recognize this.

Two of them from my Jewish subset – first year Harvard students Avi Schiffmann, 19, and Marco Burstein, 18 – LESS THAN TWO WEEKS AGO started a website to help the now 2.5 million Ukrainian refugees that has quickly garnered worldwide activity and huge attention

UkraineTakeShelter.com became an instant free Airbnb for Ukrainian refugees, with more than 4000 listings worldwide of rooms, apartments, houses, condos and school dorms for those forced to flee their homes on a moments notice.  The boys launched the site in three days and since then numerous other countries and cities are following their lead with similar programs.

Heroes

Not only that, but they are now expanding into providing transportation to Ukrainians from their hiding spots, as well as offering shelters for animals and providing a means to report bots (nee Russian infiltrators) attempting to lure them into danger.

On the other side, we have a renowned Jewish Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich, 55, a man who has spent the last twenty years lavishly spending in the U.S. and Great Britain huge portions of the $15 billion plus fortune he made in Russian oil under the auspices of the Putin regime and via his close relationship with that dictator..

Despite a white hot hatred for the U.S. and NATO it’s always been the dictator’s plan to infiltrate key Russians in the west in order to slowly and avariciously turn the cultural tables on us and generate pro Russian western propaganda through his affiliates.

To that end, Mr. Abramovich has used his personal means to buy many hundreds of millions of dollars worth of real estate on New York’s upper east side and in London; acquire hundreds of millions of past century and contemporary art work; and buy and reinvigorate UK’s almost defunct Chelsea soccer team with enough expensive players to ensure them an unprecedented array of championships in the early to mid 2000s.  This in turn purchased him relationships with some of the top power players in the world, including the Trump and Kushner families.

.. and that feels kind somehow

Then, in 2018, after Russian spies poisoned a couple of people in the UK and things got a little too hot for him, Abramovich bought his way into Israeli society and citizenship through generous donations to hospitals, universities and Holocaust exhibits.

Yet all the money in the world, a disrespectable percentage of which he did once leverage, can now not spare him from the Putin Stink and worldwide sanctions on his financial fortune.  Nor will it prevent him from morphing into an international pariah in real time and before our eyes.

Sorry not sorry

When the hospitals, universities and Holocaust museums you once so generously bought into announce one after another they have severed their relationships to both you and your money, it’s hard not to see where his third act is leading.

It also shows you that we Jews, like we gays, and we humans of any type, can either surprise or horrify you.

Resist lumping us together or you risk becoming the new world pariahs.

Barbra Streisand – “Don’t Rain on My Parade”

Change for the Good

America is part of a global multi-racial community whether the insurrectionists of Jan. 6 like it or not.

This is a fact and it’s not going to change.  Ever.

Get used to it!

If anything, thanks in part to social media and social revolution, we are only going to get more multi-racial and more global.

Despite all the bellyaching from those preferring to benefit from our traditionally white, male heterosexual power structure.

Numbers don’t lie no matter how many times those doing their best to suppress the truth tell us a fork is actually a spoon…or a salad bowl.

If you want to put politics aside, and who doesn’t right now, one way to consider just how much things have changed is to look at this year’s Oscar nominations.

Huh? Chairy?

Flee, a mostly animated movie that tells the harrowing story of a young gay Afghan refugee’s nail biting escape from his war-torn country, was nominated for best documentary, best animated feature AND best international film.

That’s a first.

OK… good start

Japan’s Drive My Car received four nominations, including breakout ones for best picture and director, and Norway’s The Worst Person in the World nabbed an unexpected screenplay nod aside from the one it got for international film.

In the acting categories, four people of color received nominations (down from last year’s record high of nine).  But among those are top contenders like Will Smith in King Richard and Ariana DeBose in West Side Story, both of whom are favored to win in their categories.

Bonus points for the openly queer nominees!

Though before we start to believe we’ve truly toppled the Oscar Confederacy and, in turn, the international Confederacy of straight white, American maleness (Note: Don’t worry guys, we still want to include you always), here’s a very brief recent history of Oscar numbers to chew on.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences began a real diversity push in earnest more than five years ago when #OscarsSoWhite became a shameful international hashtag due to the lack of diversity among that year’s nominees and winners (Note: Not a single Black actor was nominated in either 2015 or 2016 in any of the 20 possible slots).

But this had a great deal to do with the voting members in the Academy.  At that time 92% of the membership was white and 75% was male. 

You know… him

After a push to recruit a more diverse membership, these days approximately 84% of the members are white and 16% are non-white.  Its female membership also increased to more than 32%.

The statistics among new members are a lot better.  For example, of the 819 new people who became Oscar voters in 2020, 45% were women and 36% were people of color.

If the Academy keeps going at this rate, who knows, it might not even be news when a woman receives a nomination as best director (Note: Jane Campion actually became the first female in history to be nominated twice in that category this year for The Power of The Dog, following last year’s nomination and win for Chloe Zhao (Nomadland), the first female POC to be so recognized).

Yes queen!

Though it still might break a few insurrectionists hearts when Ava DuVernay or use your imagination finally, finally, FINALLY gets their turn at the podium.

Still, we digress.

The real story of this year’s Oscar contenders, and inevitably surprising winners, really lies in the number of new international members welcomed into the Oscar voting fold during the last five years.  For a deeper dive, check out these stories in the Hollywood Reporter, Vox and Slate:

But if you want to truly understand the slow but steady shifting tide of one of our top entertainment cultural signifiers – the Oscars – and, in turn, all the kicking and screaming and spitting up from Fox News watchers– here is one simple way in.

The membership of the Academy has swelled to just about 9400 active members in 2021 compared to the 6261 it had in 2016.  That’s a 47% increase.

Consider me intrigued…

But even more interesting is that a significant portion of those new members came not only from a minority population but from outside the U.S. 

In 2022, more than 25% of all Academy members (nee voters) are from countries other than America, vs. a mere 12% just six years ago.

This gives deeper meaning to what Oscar-winning writer-director Billy Wilder was famously quoted as saying to the cameraman on one of his movies way back when: 

Shoot a few scenes out of focus.  I want to win the foreign film award.

Closeups remained in tact, Norma, don’t worry.

Now I love Billy Wilder as much as the next movie fan, perhaps even more.  But he was speaking at a particular place and time.  And as a European immigrant who embraced the style of American cinema while helping to significantly redefine it with lacerating wit, strong characterizations and unrelenting social commentary.

The Academy these days has wisely decided, though long overdue, to actively move forward from his now somewhat provincial, though still cringingly funny, dated point of view.

Its slow, somewhat steady embrace of international cinema (Note: Starting with South Korea’s Parasite best picture win in 2020), as well as its recognition of various minority and female viewpoints among this year’s nominated crop of films and members, is a welcome change and, yes, love overdue.

Meryl approved

And though I clearly can’t be sure, I’d bet, as an immigrant, even Wilder would fully endorse it.

Because ironically, when you think about it, it’s just about the most American thing the Academy, in its new and present form, can do to move the industry and the culture forward.

Evolution vs. insurrection.

Sebastián Yatra – “Dos Oruguitas” (from Encanto — Disney’s first Spanish language song nomination, second in the history of the Oscars)