Sure, no town on the planet speaks up louder in support of LGBT rights than Hollywood, but the Emmys just provided (long suspected) proof that many of its leading citizens really don’t mean it. Voters just dealt shocking losses to “The Normal Heart” that were so unjust, offensive, bizarre and ridiculous that the only thing that can explain them is that the ghost of “Brokeback Mountain” homophobia has returned to terrify awardsland.
How could “The Normal Heart” and Matt Bomer have lost Best Screenplay and Supporting Actor? All 14 of the Experts polled by Gold Derby predicted Bomer was a shoo-in. Ten picked “Normal Heart” to snag the scripter’s prize – the other four opted for “Fargo.” “Heart” also seemed to be within striking distance of winning Best Actor (6 out of 14 Experts backed Mark Ruffalo) and Supporting Actress (4 of us picked Julia Roberts).
In the end, “The Normal Heart” did prevail as Best Movie, but it lost all of the other top races. It’s as if voters were saying: OK, we’ll acknowledge the fact that this film is universally acclaimed as a modern classic and we’ll give it that Emmy, but no more. Don’t expect us to appreciate a gay actor like Bomer getting naked and intimate. Don’t ask us to embrace the emotional intensity of that script. Don’t ask us to give an Emmy to Julia Roberts or Mark Ruffalo for screaming at straight people like us about failing to address the AIDS crisis in those early years. Can’t we all just go back to giving an Emmy to the likes of Sean Hayes now and then for being a hilariously bitchy queen? That proves that we don’t hate gays! Really!
It’s a miracle Hayes won that Emmy in 2000. Hollywood doesn’t like to give Emmys or Oscars, for that matter, to openly gay actors playing lavender roles. No, winners have to be straight stars who “bravely” assume gay parts, then they can only win an Oscar, for example, if their characters die a hideous death on screen. Think of the gruesome fates of Christopher Plummer in “Beginners” (cancer), Sean Penn in “Milk” (shot), Tom Hanks in “Philadelphia” (AIDS), William Hurt in “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (shot, then body hurled into a dumpster), etc.At the Emmys, voters like their winners to be more like hyper-heterosexual Michael Douglas, who won Best Actor last year for having the “courage” to portray a lecherous, twink-preying Liberace, who ultimately gets his comeuppance when ravaged by AIDS in “Behind the Candelabra,” which won 10 addtional Emmys, including Best TV Movie.
But Matt Bomer dutifully endures a ghastly death in “Normal Heart” and he’s covered in the same kaposi sarcoma scabs that bespeckled Hanks in “Philadelphia.” Why is that different? Answer: because it’s closer to the truth – more real because Bomer is gay. It’s the same reason Jesse Tyler Ferguson can’t win an Emmy for “Modern Family.” Voters know that he’s gay in real life and they just don’t connect empathetically with him when he bears his aching heart to his stubborn dad, begging him to attend his gay wedding. That was the episode Ferguson submitted to judges this year, a whopper, and he lost to costar Ty Burrell, who dressed up in drag and did a silly stage act in front of coworkers. In previous years, voters gave two Emmys to the star who portrays Ferguson’s lover, Eric Stonestreet, who is straight in real life, of course, and dressed up as Fizbo the Clown in one of his victorious episodes.
In short, Hollywood voters get creeped out if gay films or TV shows are full of seemingly genuine romantic yearning or other raw emotions. Furiously, they turned against “Brokeback Mountain” because those cowboy lovers really seemed to mean it. They crossed a line and the movie’s chutzpah outraged academy members like Tony Curtis and Ernest Borgnine, who publicly bashed it. Even though Borgnine, as an Oscar voter and winner (“Marty”), had a professional responsibility to watch “Brokeback” before filling out his ballot, he proudly proclaimed, “I didn’t see it and I don’t care to see it . . . If John Wayne were alive, he’d be rolling over in his grave!”
Prior to Oscar night back in 2006, “Brokeback” had won an unprecedented number of precursor awards for Best Picture – 26 – and it seemed destined to take the top Academy Award next. During the ceremony, it even won the two prizes that usually line up with Best Picture – Best Director and Screenplay – but when Jack Nicholson opened up the last envelope of the evening, his bushy eyebrows darted upward as he revealed the champ: “Crash.”
Now, eight years later, it’s curious to note that “The Normal Heart” had reverse luck at the Emmys – it won the top prize, but not the others – while the same message came through at both trophy shows. Voters refused to give those movies the awards they obviously deserved, as if telling the filmmakers: You had the gall to disgust us, to lure us inside your perverted world and try to make us feel it.
To add insult to injury, voters gave three of “Normal Heart’s” Emmys to one of “Sherlock’s” lesser installments, “His Last Vow,” a trifle with preposterous plot twists (Watson’s lover suddenly decides not to kill her nemesis and shoots Sherlock in the chest instead) and unremarkable, stoic performances. If Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman had been nominated for “The Sign of Three” episode (Watson’s wedding) instead, their Emmy wins over Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer might make some sense, but the fact that “His Last Vow” beat “The Normal Heart” for screenplay and those two acting awards is a nasty bitchslap at great gay drama.
Hollywood was telling Team Ryan Murphy / Larry Kramer: Get back in your closet, boys. You can come out when you’re wearing your Carmen Miranda costumes.