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).
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?
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?
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.)