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On the Reaction to Jodie Foster’s Golden Globes Speech

On the Reaction to Jodie Foster's Golden Globes Speech

There were plenty of memorable moments at last night’s Golden Globes, from Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s hilarious monologue to Tommy Lee Jones’ amazing impression of Marina Abramović, but all anyone wants to talk about today is Jodie Foster’s fascinating acceptance speech for her Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement. On the subject of her sexuality, Foster came out — “as single,” before insisting on her right to privacy. But Foster also denied she even needed to come out in the first place, because she’d already done so “about a thousand years ago back in the Stone Age, in those very quaint days when a fragile young girl would open up to trusted friends and family and co-workers and then gradually, proudly to everyone who knew her, to everyone she actually met.” The speech concluded with a passage that seemed to suggest she was retiring from acting, although at a press conference backstage, Foster insisted that wasn’t the case.

Here’s the full speech if you missed it:

Foster’s speech has already proven a popular topic of blogversation on this Monday afternoon; I spent my lunch reading some of the many interpretations of her words. At Indiewire’s Press Play blog, Alonso Duralde described them as a work of “false equivalences:”

“For Foster to imply that the only choices are refusing to come out of the closet or becoming Honey Boo Boo is at best disingenuous and at worst an insult to the many artists who have been much braver than Foster, and who have stood up and been counted at a moment in our cultural history when famous people’s speaking the truth of their lives has been an essential element in the battle for equal rights.”

At AfterElton.com, Louis Virtel had a similar interpretation:

I cannot fathom why Jodie Foster clearly equated a celebrity’s coming-out with becoming Honey Boo Boo Child. She’s insinuating that out celebrities seem clownish, and worse, that that’s a justified opinion. I do not believe Jane Lynch is clownish, nor do I think she’s lost an invaluable amount of ‘quaintness’ by being out. Jane is brave and cool. Gayness is not dirty, nor is it freakish or trashy. I guess Jodie Foster is declaring that she only goes public about important things, and for her, that means remaining friends with Mel Gibson. He was seated beside her. Ugh.”

On the other hand, The Guardian‘s Sam Leith called Foster’s speech a work of “genius:”

“She teased it out. She appeared to hesitate. She affected to be nervous — and in so doing, of course, ratcheted up the levels both of tension and of attention. ‘But I’m just going to put it out there, right? Loud and proud, right? So I’m going to need your support on this. I am, ah,’ — beat pause — ‘single.’ Big, nervous laugh from the audience. Then she circled around the topic: being frank about her sexuality without actually saying the words. We rhetoric nerds call this occultatio: it’s where you talk about what you’re not going to talk about.”

Slate‘s J. Bryan Lowder found Foster’s occultatio “amazingly honest:”

As far as I’m concerned, as long as a gay person hasn’t been actively pretending to be straight (like a number of people in that hall tonight are probably doing), I don’t think she is required to be an activist or even a “role model” for younger LGBT people if she doesn’t wish to be. It is, of course, wonderful when big names like Zachary Quinto and Anderson Cooper have the courage to give up their hetero-privilege in a public pronouncement, and undoubtedly the increasing recognition that so many of our culture-makers are gay has the power to challenge perceptions. But in the midst of the noisy demand that celebrities be “loud and proud,” as Foster put it, the ostensible endgame of the LGBT equality movement can get drowned out: the ability to live our lives as we wish, freely and gently, in peace.”

In The Village Voice, Michael Musto called it the most defiant “almost-coming-out speech” he’d ever heard:

“All I can say is I love Jodie’s work and understand the pressures she’s been through since child stardom. Also, I’m glad she never faked an opposite-sex partner or tried to convince the public she was straight. But instead of this cockamamie speech, she could have just said ‘Yep, I’m gay.’ Twenty years ago.”

At Grantland, Wesley Morris saw Foster as a “contradiction:”

“We don’t really know what Jodie Foster did last night, even though we kind of do. It was all a perversion of DeMille, giving us something that’s none of our business without actually giving it to us. It was brilliant and cringe-inducing and sad and cautionary: Hollywood is so weird! It made you feel oddly closer to a woman whose astonishing screen self has wrestled with the perils of intimacy, who has always been, in one way or another, single. The contradictions are all Foster knows. This is a woman who comes out by simply Windexing the glass of her closet, then gradually lowering the shade.”

Foster’s speech is indeed full of contradictions. It’s honest yet coy, defiant yet evasive. I thought it might read differently than it played in front of the slightly (just slightly!) inebriated crowd at the Beverly Hilton. But the transcript feels the exact same way.

I’m not remotely qualified to judge what Foster “should” have said about herself and her sexuality, so I’m not going to. While I’m not as convinced as Leith that the whole thing was a brilliantly engineered put-on — Foster’s a good actress, but is she that good? — it did feel calculated in one way. Whatever Foster’s speech was, it was way too complicated to sum up in 140 characters on Twitter, the social media platform that might be the purest expression of modern pop culture’s obsession with oversharing. In delivering a speech so knotty and difficult to parse that it defied instantaneous regurgitation, Foster took a stand her own privacy and simultaneously undermined our own instinct to spill our secrets in public.

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