Did homophobia crush ‘The Normal Heart’ at the Emmys?

Did ”The Normal Heart” practically get shut out at the Emmys by the same anti-gay fears that hurt  ”Brokeback Mountain” at the Oscars?

Ryan Murphy‘s HBO adaptation of Larry Kramer’s 1985 play about the early days of AIDS was one of last season’s most acclaimed telefilms. In June, it won Best TV Movie at the Critics’ Choice Awards, where Matt Bomer also won Best Supporting Actor in a Movie or Miniseries. At GoldDerby.com, ”The Normal Heart” was the overwhelming favorite to win Best TV Movie (14 out of 14 Experts), Supporting Actor (for Bomer, 14 out of 14), Directing (for Murphy, 11 out of 14) and Screenplay (for Larry Kramer, 10 out of 14).

See complete list of Emmy winners and nominations

Instead, ”The Normal Heart” watched one Emmy nomination after another crash and burn, losing three of its bids to ”Sherlock: The Last Vow”: Bomer lost to Martin Freeman, Mark Ruffalo lost to Benedict Cumberbatch, and Kramer lost to Steven Moffat.

What the f*ck happened? Eerily, it was reminscent of ”Brokeback Mountain’s” legendary loss at the 2006 Oscars. It, too, lost all its acting bids, but won Direction (for Ang Lee) and Screenplay (for Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana) … yet lost the biggie: Best Picture. ”The Normal Heart” also lost all its acting bids, but in a reverse variation. It lost Direction and Screenplay, yet still won the biggie: Best TV Movie. Did the film’s gay sexual content keep the Emmy voters from fully embracing it? Did they give ”The Normal Heart” the prize for Best TV Movie, so it wouldn’t get shut out and open up the voters to charges of homophobia?

Emmys: The good (‘Breaking Bad’), bad (Seth Meyers) and ugly (‘Weird’ Al)

Or did ”The Normal Heart” simply lose its other bids to a superior movie? Until this awards season, ”Sherlock” had never won a single Emmy. In 2012, ”Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia” was nominated for 13 awards, and lost every one. In 2011, ”Sherlock: A Study in Pink” was nominated for 4 Emmys, and lost every one. So why did ”Sherlock” win now? Was it merely overdue?

”The Normal Heart” also had a compelling backstory: Imagine the full standing ovation that the ailing, 79-year-old Kramer would’ve received if he had won the Screenplay Emmy, not only for his writing but his nearly 30-year fight to get his story on screen. And a Bomer victory also would’ve also made history: He could’ve been the first openly gay actor to win a major Emmy for playing a gay role.

By contrast, straight actors are cited for their ”bravery” and win Emmys for playing gay (i.e., Michael Douglas as Liberace in ”Behind the Candelabra”) or Oscars (i.e., Tom Hanks in ”Philadelphia”). Does Hollywood assume that it’s not really award-worthy for out actors to play gay roles?

Biggest Emmy shockers: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Jessica Lange …

Meantime, let’s see if the Golden Globes and SAGs embrace Murphy’s film with more of an open ”Heart” than the Emmys did.

(Wayman Wong also has covered entertainment for the N.Y. Daily News, Playbill.com and Talkin’ Broadway.)

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35 thoughts on “Did homophobia crush ‘The Normal Heart’ at the Emmys?

  1. It was ridiculous, specially Matt Bomer losing against Martin Freeman which was the most shocking of it all… it was outrageous, even the audience felt it! I hope the Globes give it the recognition it deserves…

  2. Can we please give this crap a rest did Idris Elba lose cause he was black? Did Meryl Streep win for her shrill Iron Lady cause they couldn’t let her lose to a black woman? I don’t remember seeing any remarks about these. Why can’t a show about gays just lose like other shows why it is always implied homophobia – it was very good it won Best Movie but because it was about gays it should have swept everything? I hardly think so but that is just what your article implies – maybe SAG will give it awards because it is very good film or you don’t care about quality – it’s about gays that should be enough NOT!

  3. I honestly didn’t see “Sherlock” so I can’t give an opinion on the acting performances. I will say I don’t think the case here is homophobia. “Angels In America” dominated the Emmy Awards. And at the end of the day, “The Normal Heart” DID win the ultimate Emmy, Best TV Movie.

  4. Yeah, I don’t think we’re experiencing the same kind of homophobia backlash that we did in 2006. From everything I read, “The Normal Heart” was no masterpiece.

  5. And honestly, it’s articles like this that continue to perpetuate the idea of latent homophobia in Hollywood. As a gay man, I’d like to see an end to these baiting headlines.

  6. This really is a useless discussion, and reeks of victim complex. Just because Matt Bomer lost does not mean there is “homophobia” at the Emmys. The movie still won. Jim Parsons keeps winning. For god’s sake people, get a life and stop playing the victim. Mr. Wong should really be ashamed of himself.

  7. I think it’s a disgrace that TNH didn’t win more Emmy’s!! Matt Bomer did an outstanding job in his part as Felix in the movie and should have won it!! he totally deserved to win!

  8. There was something highly suspicious about Bomer not winning for what was an outstanding performance, and clearly more deserving of the win than Freeman (who was good, but not great or heartwrenching like Bomer). I’m pretty certain there was no conscious homophobia on the part of the voters, but I can’t help but think if Bomer had given that exact same performance in that role but been a straight man, he would have won, no problem. Whatever, the Emmy voters who made this decision should be ashamed of themselves for such a terrible decision.

  9. @ FilmRush: It seems you are commenting on this issue without actually having seen the movie or the performances, which would seem to make your opinion less worthwhile.

  10. Yes…because clearly people in the arts have a homophobic agenda. That’s why Beyond the Candelabra cleaned up last year, and awhy gay actor keeps winning the best actor in a comedy category. This article is fatuous. I’m gay, and believe that Sherlock has been long overdo for some Emmy love. Julia Roberts and Mark Ruffalo gave pedestrian performances. Bomer was quite good, but was not so much better than Martin Freeman to where you can call it a conspiracy.

  11. Stupid article. Both Angels in America and Behind the Candleabra swept the longform categories in earlier years. Why? Because they were better made films. (And not that it matters, but Sherlock’s creator and showrunner, who’s also a cast member on the show, is one of the most prominent gay men in the U.K.) BTC in particular was very explicit in its gay content.
    The justifications in this article are telling in that they have nothing to do with quality. TNH should have won because it would’ve been a cool standing O for Larry Kramer, because he’s old? Just because something’s a passion project doesn’t mean it’s good. That’s why a program should win awards? Come on. The editors who predicted TNH to sweep everything were not paying attention to the lack of excitement and tepid reaction that greeted TNH since it’s premiere, nor have they been paying attention to the Ryan Murphy backlash. So Matt Bomer won a Critics’ Choice Award – so did Cumberbatch two years ago, who was hotly tipped against Kevin Costner, and he also lost then.
    The shock over Brokeback Mountain losing to Crash was because Brokeback was universally ackowledged as the better film and picked up other nominations, including actor nods, had all the buzz and critical acclaim while Crash was critically mocked. That’s why the loss was shocking. Sherlock OTOH had 16 previous Emmy nods, two previous Critics’ Choice wins, and it outranks The Normal Heart on both Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes for critical acclaim. Why is it winning now? It’s obvious – S3 was a ratings record breaker on both sides of the Atlantic and the two stars are very buzzy at the moment. Cumberbatch’s performance has been called iconic for awhile, but now he’s the “It boy” in movies and a probably Oscar frontunner. Freeman’s now the star of a billion dollar film franchise and this year was a double nominee for a great lead performance in the buzziest and most acclaimed miniseries of the year. Perfect storm, resulting in Emmy wins.

  12. I am thinking Martin Freeman’s win for Sherlock was ALSO a win for his performance in Fargo… maybe voters felt it was time to reward Cumberbatch with a best actor Emmy but wanted to make sure Freeman was recognized (for his superlative work in Fargo as well as the fine work he does in Sherlock).

  13. The Normal Heart was award bait and felt like it. This was ground breaking material back when Tom Hanks was in Philadelphia. We just awarded stellar performances by Matthew Mc(know idea how to spell his last name) and Jared Leto. There was no homophobia; that is an excuse. I thought the NH was melodramatic, though well-acted no doubt, but we have seen this formula – actor gets thin, plays sad death scene and wins awards. It seems like everyone jumps on the trendy bandwagon and ignores other very viable, fine performances.

  14. Maybe they just didn’t like it. The Normal Heart did get some pretty mixed reviews. It wasn’t really universally loved. I personally found The Normal Heart to be a weird combination of being both totally depressing and extremely uninteresting. But I loved Behind the Candelabra. That was a very entertaining movie with some fascinating characters. And Sherlock is by far my favorite thing I have seen so far in 2014, so really, maybe they just liked Sherlock a little better. I think the way bigger shockeroo here is not that Mark Ruffalo would lose to Benedict Cumberbatch, but that the Fargo actors would lose to Benedict Cumberbatch, and it’s not really a shock to me that Julia Roberts would lose to Kathy Bates, but that Allison Tolman would lose to Kathy Bates. She got robbed. As far as Martin Freeman beating Matt Bomer…that did surprise me, but only because I thought Bomer’s role would be the kind of thing they would go for, not because I especially liked it. I do think Freeman won because they saw both his performances in Fargo and Sherlock, and were really surprised at his range as an actor.

  15. Lets not forget that both Beyond the Candelabra and Angels in America had mostly straight actors when they “cleaned up” the awards. I still don’t understand how Matt Bomer lost. Martin is great, but why not give him the award in past seasons? Honesly i’m shocked The Normal Heart and even Fargo lost Emmys to Sherlock in season 3.

  16. I don’t think It was homophobia but Matt Bomer definitely was robbed. e put his heart on this project & his performance was def shocking. He deserved it! Besides The Normal Heart is a story based on real facts. It just touches you!

  17. I dont think there is any argument that could sway me in thinking that Freeman (as good as he is) gave a better performance than Matt Bomer. Or Mantello and Parsons for that matter. I am still shaken by that film and its actors should have won in a landslide. Im also still baffled by Sherlock competing in the TV movie category vs miniseries. How does something with multiple parts qualify as a movie? Isnt that the definition of a miniseries? The Emmys really need to tighten up submission rules in terms of submitting for drama vs miniseries vs movie

  18. ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!!! It was good, but HARDLY Brokeback good!!!! I think Sherlock fans should be asking, ‘how did we win acting, directing, etc and NOT win Movie?” At least Normal won the big one- Brokeback lost. Having 4 actors from Normal in one category split the vote- end of discussion! Look into the scare tactics Bomer and husband Simon Halls consatnyl threw around Hollywood for years- people may not like him/them.

  19. Too bad article (especially considering that The Normal Heart won Best TV Movie)
    Jim Parsons has four Emmys and last year Dan Bucatinsky (who is gay) won an Emmy for Scandal and his character is gay.

  20. Hollywwod ALWAYS goes against openly gay actors in gay roles- Rupert Evert not being nominated for My Best Friend’s Wedding and str8 Greg Kinnear getting a nom that year playing gay in As Good As It Gets….they like to see str8 guys in gay roles/consider it a stretch and don’t think it’s a stretch for gays to play gay- which is stupid, considering all the wards str8 guys win for playing str8- THAT’S the story to investigate!

  21. Hollywood is not homophobic! Many gay actors have won numerous times for many roles. The reason why The Normal Heart Lost so many nods is because Hollywood detests Ryan Murphy. There was no way that movie was going to lose but they wanted to send him a big message. You are a huge a$$hole and anyone who has every worked for you knows it!

  22. All of the losses by The Normal Heart were justified. Both Freeman and Cumberbatch have long been deserving of Emmys and this past season was by far their best work. Kudos to the Emmys for getting it right.

  23. I wasn’t expecting Mark Ruffalo to win or Julia Roberts, but I was stunned that Matt Bomer lost. There was flaws with the movie, I agree, so I can see not getting direction or even writing, but I don’t know how you can watch Bomer’s performance and not be completely blown away by it. The others gave good performances, his was great. I like Martin Freeman, but he should have won for Fargo. I don’t know if it’s homophobia, actually, because the Emmys (and lets toss in the Oscars in there too) have gotten so many calls wrong so many years who can say what goes on when people vote. Of course, liking movies, TV’s, actors, actresses is so subjective somebody will always be upset.

  24. Some people commenting on here are plain stupid and blind. The Normal Heart won the best movie. So obviously the stupid “logic”of Ryan Murphy hate doesn’t fly. It doesn’t need too much thinking to see that we don’t have a single leading openly gay man There plenty who are in the closet with constant bearding. Why do you think so?. Matt Bomer played a romantic hero here. This would be a first time this has happened. Most importantly everone across the board, wether or not they liked the movie, have praised Matt’s performance. Not because of the weight loss but because of the range of emotions he portrayed subtly and beautifully. Martin Freeman is a great actor but in no way his work this season compares to the work that went into Matt’s role. This was a great opportunity to put to rest Hollywood’s anti gay reputation. Too bad they didn’t take it. So whatever the real reason, Matt Bomer deserved an Emmy and was robbed for sure.

  25. Jim Parsons winning 4 times doesn’t equate because he is gay, but not playing a gay person. I didn’t think Bomer not winning was that surprising. He was up against three other people from the same film. Martin Freeman was nominated for Sherlock, but was also great in Fargo. Sometimes it helps to win when you’ve had two strong roles in one year. I do occasionally think there’s a bias about gay people getting nominated or winning for playing a gay character. Someone mentioned Rupert Everett in My Best Friend’s wedding. What about Jesse Tyler Ferguson in Modern family. Chris Colfer in Glee? Sean Hayes won for Will & Grace, but he wasn’t out. Perhaps these things influence some voters’ decisions where they shouldn’t, but I don’t think in this case it’s why Normal Heart didn’t do so well.

    What the emmys need to do something about is the constant repeat winners for the same role. If you had a rule that you couldn’t win two emmys consecutively for the same role then SIX actors wouldn’t have won an emmy this week and other deserving actors like Jon Hamm, for example, might’ve deservedly won.

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