The PEN/Faulkner Foundation presents:
‘Call Me By Your Name: an Evening with Andre Aciman’
Friday, April 20
GW Lisner Auditorium
730 21st St., N.W.
general admission: $20
admission, book & signing: $35
Not only are actors Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet — leads in the seminal gay coming-of-age movie “Call Me By Your Name,” — straight, Andre Aciman, author of the 2007 novel upon which its based, is straight as well.
He’ll be in Washington on Friday, April 20 for a moderated discussion at the Lisner Auditorium hosted by the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, which the Atlantic’s Spencer Kornhaber will moderate. He spoke to the Blade this week by phone from his New York home base where he writes and teaches comparative literature at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His comments have been slightly edited for length.
WASHINGTON BLADE: Are you tired of talking about “Call Me By Your Name?”
ANDRE ACIMAN: It’s been part of my life for the past 10 years and any opportunity I have to talk, I seize it because I love it. It hasn’t become either habitual or tedious yet and I don’t see it happening. It’s been fantastic for the past year since the movie came out but also for the past 10 years when the book was initially released to quite a bit of acclaim although it was never a bestseller.
BLADE: Did gays embrace it right away or later with the movie tie-in?
ACIMAN: It was immediately read. I’m actually writing a piece on that. Initially I received a lot of mail from people into their 80s who were extremely moved by the story and at the bottom of their e-mail there was always something like I wish my father had been there to give me that kind of a talk. So yes, what they were all lamenting was the fact that the coming-out ritual, which is now so palpable everywhere, it didn’t really exist in those years so they couldn’t even really come out. There was nothing to come out with as it were so you had to keep it under wraps.
BLADE: I know a lot of people found the father’s speech very moving but I felt it worked better in the book. The movie felt so minimalist and languid then the speech to me felt suddenly quite literal and even a bit patronizing. Like suddenly it turned into an after-school special. I’m guessing you would disagree with that but it was the one moment in the movie that felt a bit false to me. I didn’t feel that in the book.
ACIMAN: Well I don’t know if it’s a fair criticism but I know when people read that speech they cry to begin with and when they hear it said in the movie they cry again. In other words, the crying begins with the father’s speech and not necessarily with the separation of the two guys. It was quite easy to write and it basically came out rather spontaneously. The way it was, I caught myself writing a sentence like “to feel nothing in order to feel nothing.” Where do you get double negatives like that in a write who sort of watches his language, but I left it that way because I figured this captured what I was trying to say. The difficult part was not that, but writing the scene where Elio sort of blubbers or sort of without thinking ends up telling Oliver what he feels. That was very difficult to write because I didn’t want him to come out and say it. I wanted it to be as ambiguous as possible so he’d have some chance of retraction if it was going to be embarrassing.
BLADE: You’ve said in other interviews you’re perplexed when people tell you they cry at the book or the movie. Are you being self-effacing perhaps? It’s a poignant story. That it would induce tears does not seem surprising to me.
ACIMAN: I was perplexed by it. Yes, everything about me is modesty so I have to assume, without knowing of course, I have to even assume some of it will be affected. I’m willing to grant that much. On the other hand, the one moment that was moving to me — not to tears, but it was just, I could feel a sort of shudder running through me when I decided to write the scene — was the moment when Elio says toward the end of the book that whenever he passes by that wall where they kissed rather passionately, he still feels the presence of that kiss. For me that was very moving and very true but I doubt anybody cried in that moment because it wasn’t anything that sort of brings tears to your eyes. … Also when Oliver tells him, “I remember everything,” I could see where that could be moving, but it’s not a sad crying. That’s what perplexes me. People tell me they cried for days. I always ask them to tell me why and nobody can explain it.
BLADE: Don’t you think it’s as simple as them being startled that you captured feelings so well they’d previously felt themselves?
ACIMAN: Well maybe that’s the part I don’t understand totally. I do understand it partly. … What I don’t understand is you haven’t read this all over the place? Am I the only one who does this and many people say yes. I can’t believe this because, well, among other things there’s Marcel Proust, the great Michelangelo of the psychological book. (Editor’s note: Aciman is editor of “The Proust Project.”)
BLADE: Oliver and Elio are both intellectuals or at least budding intellectuals perhaps for Elio. Would the story have worked if they’d had average IQs or were more blue collar?
ACIMAN: If they had lower IQs or were less educated, I would not have been interested in them at all. The fact that Elio is already precocious is part of what I was at his age. I had read everything almost by the time I was 17. I knew classical music, I loved the high arts and yes, I was a bit elitist and still am. In many respects if they were the working class sort or if it had been some kind of gas station love affair where they did it in the bathroom or whatever, I have no interest in that and it doesn’t even eroticize me. … I’m not interested in class differentiation, the sort of pedestrian lifestyle or what you’d call the average man. I’ve never been interested in average people.
BLADE: Could it have worked if they’d been a straight couple?
ACIMAN: I think it would have worked the same exact way. The fact that Oliver tells him this is all wrong, that’s exactly what an older tutor type would say if the guy had a crush on his tutor, she would say, “No, this is wrong, I’m your dad’s employee, I don’t want to do this.” The other aspect is that it starts with a very physical and brutal infatuation. It could be a girl and a girl as far as I’m concerned. The fact that Elio is so embarrassed is not because it’s a gay love. It’s because he’s so attracted to him. Attraction is not something, of course it’s very natural physically speaking, but in society, it’s not exactly the kind of thing one wants to let on that one feels … but not because it’s gay.
BLADE: Was it a hard sell?
ACIMAN: Oh, you mean you don’t know? I was writing another novel and I had stopped writing it because it was giving me such a hard time. And then I just wrote “Call Me By Your Name” in three-and-a-half months. So I went to my agent’s office and I said I had finished a novel and she said, “Oh, you finally finished it,” it was going on three years. I said, “No, I wrote a new novel.” … She wrote to me early the next morning saying she had read it overnight and she loved it and wanted to sell it and it was sold within 24 hours. Jonathan Galassi (president of publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux) read it very, very quickly and he knew, I think, that he felt it was the right thing for them and he bought it right away. (Note: the other book he was working on was eventually published — “Eight White Nights” in 2010.)
BLADE: You held firm to your ending although you were very open to other editing. Did you have final cut in your contract and if so, how common or uncommon is that in the publishing world?
ACIMAN: It’s more of a courtesy relationship. They make recommendations. If you absolutely refuse, they’ll go along with it. Jonathan Galassi is known to say to people, “It’s your book.” In other words, you can do what you want. But he did make suggestions and I did cut some things. The chapter in Rome was originally about twice its size. It was very long because I was enjoying myself at that point. They had had sex, everything was on the table so I could just go with this honeymoon trip to Rome and have a great deal of fun with it. I wanted them to go to the cemetery where John Keats is buried but I figured we’ll cut this and it was fine. It made perfect sense to cut except when I feel, maybe five-10 percent of the time what I had in place was correct.
BLADE: Tell us about the PEN/Faulkner event. Will you be interviewed?
ACIMAN: Yes but that’s all I know. I don’t know what the questions are and I always want to be surprised and think on my feet. But it’s flattering that they invited me and I’m very pleased.
BLADE: When the movie came out, did you attend many of the film festivals and press junkets?
ACIMAN: No. I just went to the one in Berlin and the New York one. When you’re a writer, you’re an extra in the mix. People want to see the movie stars. They’re sexy figures at this point and that’s what people want to see. They don’t need the intellectual to sort of narrate his own work. It’s not that interesting.
BLADE: Was there any talk of possibly you adapting the screenplay before James Ivory got involved?
ACIMAN: I don’t think there was. I’m not really trained in that although I could do it. I didn’t want to put my energies into something like that while I was writing another book. I think James Ivory did a fantastic job altogether and (director) Luca (Guadagnino) also because when you’re filming something there are changes you make to the script all the time.
BLADE: Did you know Luca’s work before this got optioned?
ACIMAN: Yes and I was extremely happy because I had seen a few years earlier the film “I Am Love,” which I particularly liked.
BLADE: Have you known many gay people throughout your life?
ACIMAN: Oh god yes, many. In fact I would say most of my friends, my best friends are gay. Not all, but most. I tend not to write alpha male types. They’re not something I can speak with about the life of the mind, the life of the soul. Gay people tend to be much more open to those sorts of touchy subjects and I found myself more interested in discussing those things.
BLADE: Did you listen to Armie Hammer’s audiobook of “Call Me”?
ACIMAN: Yes, of course and I loved it. It took me a bit to get used to the fact that Oliver is actually reading Elio’s story. It was off putting for the first few minutes but then you get used to it and it’s fine.
BLADE: Luca has been talking about a sequel. How involved are you in that and what is your general feeling? Outside of “The Godfather,” sequels usually end up being mistakes.
ACIMAN: Well you said something very true. It could easily become like “Rocky 5, 6, 7, 8,” which are terrible movies, although I do love “Rocky IV” I have to admit, I don’t know why. But anyway no, we have had conversations about the sequel but I think we’re still a few years away from it because the actors would have to be a bit older so we can see how time might affect them. The story is going to have to take a new spin and adapt some of the stuff at the end of the book which was left off in the film but it’s up in the air. It’s a nice idea but we have no idea where we’re going with it yet.
BLADE: So it’s very preliminary?
BLADE: Did this idea come up during production or after the movie was a hit?
ACIMAN: No, during production. When I met Luca in Italy, he was already talking about a sequel.
BLADE: Do you think that influenced his decision on how to end the movie?
ACIMAN: I don’t know. It’s not the cliffhanger you have at the end of a season on television for example. It’s more a quiet closure that could easily be reopened again if we decide to.
BLADE: Where did you watch the Oscars and how did you feel when James Ivory won?
ACIMAN: I was there, seated a bit back. They didn’t say “Call Me By Your Name” when he won so for a split second I was thinking, “Oh, we lost,” and I turned to my wife and she said, “We won, you idiot.” I was very happy and particularly touched by the graciousness that he gave me a call out. … It made me feel that I too, got an Oscar through him.
BLADE: Ivory said he would have liked more nudity in the film. It did feel a bit incongruous to me that here we have this gay love story but there was more straight sex and nudity in it than gay. Not that you go for the sex but as a point of reference.
ACIMAN: I didn’t agree with him because he had male nudity, I think, in “A Room With a View” where you had three men running around the pond totally naked. When you see a woman nude, you see breasts and there’s nothing else really to see. You don’t see an open vulva to be sort of vulgar for a second. You don’t see that, genital nudity but you do with a man. … Frankly I don’t think it was necessary and I didn’t want to see them actually fucking. That would have been in bad interest to begin with. I don’t like to see the sexual act, gay or hetero, on screen. It really bores me. I no longer enjoy watching it. I mean if I want to see porn, I’ll go to a site and look at porn.
BLADE: Do you feel the film got shortchanged at the Oscars?
ACIMAN: I was frustrated. I thought to be honest, I haven’t seen the Churchill film (“Darkest Hour”) but I’ve seen cuts of it. I think there’s a bit of hysterical acting in it and I was very disappointed Timmy didn’t get it because I think he should have, age nonetheless. And I really felt the film itself should have gotten it because it’s a terrific film. Everybody is talking about it. … Even just two days ago, it was referenced in relation to the opera “Tristan and Isolde.” I thought it was a bad decision but one should never question the decision of judges, you know. So I left it at that but I was frustrated, of course I was.
BLADE: Do you remember writing the scene where the title notion comes from and how that came to you?
ACIMAN: Yes. First of all, it was not the original title of the book. We went through a whole list of titles and at the very end I said, “What about ‘Call Me By Your Name?’” Now people ask me to sign the book to them using my name and they tell me they do that when they’re having sex. It becomes something very intimate when you give them your name. They become you whether it becomes for one second and then you forget about it and you’re embarrassed or you do it repeatedly. In the film, it was a gesture where you absolutely want to be one with someone and you basically no longer know where their body starts and yours is. That confusion is one of the most beautiful things in life I think.
BLADE: I took it as sort of a gay reclaiming of the biblical notion of “the two shall become one.”
ACIMAN: Could be.
BLADE: In the book, they kiss after Elio vomits. They look in the toilet after each other. Were you saying that attraction sometimes is so intense it can transcend bodily functions we ordinarily would be repulsed by?
ACIMAN: Yeah, because I wanted basically aside from the fact that I wanted every orifice to be part of the game here, but it’s more than that. I think that body functions — many people, even married people will shut the door when they go to the bathroom. They don’t want the other person to see. Why? Because it’s disgusting? Or because it’s private? And the whole notion of the book is that there is no private. … If you ejaculate in a peach, I will eat the peach with your cum in it and I want to see you going to the bathroom. I want to know everything about you. … It’s an idyll to love so it has to include everything, even vomit.
BLADE: Some of the #MeToo stuff was same-sex like with James Levine and Kevin Spacey. I know that’s a whole other thing but the fact that that was playing out when the movie was so popular, did any of that land on your shores?
ACIMAN: No, not at all really. A, because I’m not really interested in it but what did land on my shore is the fact that Elio is 17 and Oliver is a grown up. … Many things happened to me at that age and I was just lucky to have found nicer people. … But I wanted Elio to be 17. … If he’d been 18, that would have seemed, to me at least, that I was trying to get the OK from the thought police.
BLADE: What are you writing now?
ACIMAN: I have a collection of essays tentatively called “Homo Irrealis,” that’s finished and I’m working on another book, sort of a bilateral novel about three lives … that explores how people have attractions to people of the opposite sex and the same sex.
BLADE: When did you discover Proust?
ACIMAN: When I was 14 the first time, then I stopped reading him because it was just too close. It was very, very close but I felt I wanted to be influenced by this guy but I still needed to read Dostoevsky so I put him off. But my father was a big Proustian lover and he had read Proust twice in his life. I discovered him again in my late teens and it changed my life, it changed me as a writer. It told me ironically that everything I had thought was OK and every way I wanted to write was OK since he was doing it.
BLADE: How much gets lost in translation with Proust?
ACIMAN: Well some of it is definitely lost but if you’re dealing with a very good translator, the loss is not severe.
BLADE: When you’re writing, do your productive daydreams very often seep over into procrastination?
ACIMAN: Are you kidding, I’m the most undisciplined writer in the world. I re-write many, many, many times so that’s why I don’t produce a giant blockbuster every two years as many writers do.
BLADE: Was the three-and-a-half months for “Call Me” revisions and everything?
ACIMAN: Yes. I began it in April and handed in the manuscript on Labor Day in 2005.
BLADE: Do you enjoy teaching or just do it to pay the bills?
ACIMAN: No, I need teaching because it turns out, I’ll say this quite openly, I think I’m a very good teacher because I take people to places that they ordinarily would never have thought existed. And I like to hear people think and hear them draw on their feelings to what they’re thinking about as opposed to just giving me the gibberish jargon they think they need to. … If I just did it to pay the bills, I would have stopped.
Final season of ‘Pose’ is must-see TV that matters
Groundbreaking FX drama has left its mark
When the COVID pandemic hit in the early months of 2020, there were certainly more pressing and essential worries for us to grapple with than how it would impact the next season of a TV show. Yet it’s a testament to the power of “Pose” that many among its legion of fans were at least as concerned about the show’s disruption as they were about the possibility of running out of toilet paper.
The powerhouse FX drama — which spotlights the legends, icons and ferocious house mothers of New York’s underground ball culture in the late 1980s — had already made history. Not only did it feature the largest cast of transgender actors in regular roles, it boasted the largest recurring cast of LGBTQ actors ever included in a scripted series. In its first two seasons, the show racked up accolades and honors (including a Primetime Emmy for Billy Porter as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series) while breaking new ground for the inclusion and representation of queer people — and especially transgender people of color — in television, both in front of the camera, and behind it. With the end of its second season in August 2019, fans were hungry for a third — but thanks to COVID, its future was suddenly in question.
So, when word came that the show’s third season would have its debut on May 2, it was the best news since finding out the vaccines were finally going to start rolling out. But it was bittersweet: Along with confirmation of the series’ imminent return came the sad revelation that the new season would also be the last. “Pose” would be coming to an end with a final, seven-episode arc.
As any viewer of show can attest, there were a lot of threads left hanging when last we saw its characters. That means there’s a lot of ground to cover in these last chapters in order to give everyone — characters and audience alike — the closure they deserve.
The show’s official synopsis goes like this: It’s now 1994 and ballroom feels like a distant memory for Blanca, who struggles to balance being a mother with being a present partner to her new love, as well as her latest role as a nurse’s aide. Meanwhile, as AIDS becomes the leading cause of death for Americans ages 25 to 44, Pray Tell contends with unexpected health burdens. Meanwhile, a vicious new upstart house is emerging in the ballroom world, and the members of the House of Evangelista are forced to contend their legacy.
Obviously, there are a lot of details left hidden in that broad overview, and fans are undoubtedly full of questions about what they can expect to see.
Fortunately, the bulk of the show’s main cast convened on Zoom last week (along with show co-creator and Executive Producer Steven Canals and Executive Producer Janet Mock) for a press conference to discuss their “Pose” experience, and while they didn’t exactly give away any spoilers, they definitely dropped some tantalizing hints about what’s in store for audiences in the farewell season.
In truth, most of the discussion was dominated by reminiscences and expressions of mutual appreciation, sure signs that the feeling of family we see onscreen is something that has taken hold off screen, as well. But in between the affectionate banter, the cast and creatives addressed several questions that might be most on viewers’ minds.
Perhaps the most pressing of these — why, after only three seasons, is the critic-and-audience-acclaimed show calling it quits? — was taken on by Canals, who explained:
“I always knew what the beginning and what the end of the narrative would be. And when Ryan Murphy and I first met in September of 2016, we felt really strongly that that particular narrative made sense. And so, while we certainly could have continued to create narrative around these characters and in this world, and we certainly had a conversation in the writers’ room about it … I think we all agreed that it just made sense for us to ‘land the plane,’ if you will, comfortably — as opposed to continuing to give an audience story that just simply didn’t have any real core intention or a real thrust towards specificity.”
Also of interest was the obvious subject of how the parallels between the current pandemic and the AIDS crisis that looms over the show’s narrative might be reflected in the new episodes. While he didn’t hint at any direct connections in “Pose,” Porter used the subject to underscore a theme that has always been one of the show’s most important elements:
“I think the parallels are quite profound. I know that as a Black gay man who lived through the AIDS crisis, I have been dealing with a lot of PTSD during this COVID time. It’s very reminiscent of what it was like then. The best news about that is that I survived. We got through it, and there is another side to it. We can get to the other side.
“I feel like that’s what ‘Pose’ really accomplishes this season, reminding the public that it’s when we come together and when we lead with love [that] we get to the other side.”
Mock elaborated on the theme of resilience by discussing the importance of showing the strength of House mothers like Blanca and Electra (Dominique Jackson), who hold together — and lift up — their entire community:
“It’s that matriarchal power and lineage that I think the ballroom is, and what trans women are to one another, that then feeds everyone else and enables them to shine and have all the things that they want in the world. For me, it is [about] that celebration […] of Black trans women — that they’ve created this space, that they brought everyone else in with them, and that, at the end of the day, they are often the ones most often forgotten.
“I think with this season, I want everyone across the industry, the audience, to realize that. I think it’s essential, and it’s important.”
Mock also talked about the way “Pose” focuses on the small, day-to-day lives of its characters as much as it does the larger-than-life splendor of the ballroom culture in which they participate:
“We wanted to ensure that we show the everyday, mundane moments, as well as the great, grand celebrations. The ballroom is are presentation of what it means to congregate and share testimony and to love on each other, and our show is a celebration of the everyday intimacies. So, for us, while we were plotting these big, grand moments […] we wanted to bring in traditions — weddings, matrimony, all this stuff — that our characters get to engage in. We wanted to be a part of the tradition of that, and all the moments that a family shares together. We wanted to make sure that all of those things were celebrated in this.”
When discussion turned to the unprecedented level of support and collaborative inclusion with which the show’s queer cast were bestowed by Ryan Murphy and the rest of the creative staff — from the presence of trans women like Mock and Co-producer Our Lady J in the writers’ room to the extensive reliance on the insights and talents of real-life members of the ballroom community — Jackson was quick to add that besides giving the show its ferocious authenticity, it gave her an increased recognition of her own worth:
“I will never, ever, ever walk into a space thinking that I need to impress them […] I will never walk into a space being fearful of my identity stopping me from anything. Because of this journey, when I walk into spaces now, my identity is not because I’m an abomination. My identity is a plus. My identity is my value. So, when I walk into spaces now,they need to impress me. You can be the biggest Hollywood director, producer, whatever, but you’re not going to take my story or relay stories that are reflective of my life or my existence and make them into anything you want, because of ‘Pose,’ because of Ryan, because of Steven, because of Janet and Brad [co-creator/executive producer Falchuk), because of Our Lady J, because of my cast members.
“I will never walk into spaces or live a life or an existence thinking that I need to impress anyone.”
Porter concurred, adding:
“There was never, ever a space in my brain to dream what‘Pose’ is, what Pray Tell is. I spent the first 25-plusyears of my career trying to fit into a masculinity construct that society placed on us so I could eat.‘Pose,’ and Pray Tell in particular, really taught me to dream the impossible […] the idea that the little, Black church sissy from Pittsburgh is now in a position of power in Hollywood in a way that never existed before. You can damn sure believe that I will be wielding that power and there will be a difference and a change in how things go from here on out.”
If the cast members themselves have found themselves feeling more empowered thanks to “Pose,” so too have the millions of LGBTQ people — and allies — who have tuned into it since its premiere in 2018. The show is one of those rare entries into the cultural lexicon that simply allows its queer and trans people to live authentic lives, giving long-withheld representation to countless viewers who were able to see themselves reflected back from the screen for perhaps the very first time. It’s that powerful sense of validation provided by “Pose” that keeps it standing tall in an entertainment market now providing so much LGBTQ inclusion that it’s becoming dangerously easy to take it for granted.
Whatever moments of heartbreak, joy, and celebration “Pose” brings us as it plays out its final act — and there are sure to be many — we can all be sure it will leave us with a message expressed through an oft-heard line of dialogue that Mock says she found herself writing “over and over again” during the series’ run:
“You are everything, and you deserve everything this world has to offer.” It’s that nurturing sentiment the “Pose” has been instilling in us from the beginning, like a mother to us all.
And that’s why so many of us can’t wait until the first two episodes of its final season air at 10 p.m. (both Eastern and Pacific), Sunday, May 2, on FX.
At 75, John Waters has no plans to retire
‘I’d go nuts if I didn’t work’
When writer and filmmaker John Waters turned 70 five years ago, he said he took six friends on a first-class trip to Paris for his birthday and “we had the best time.”
This year, for his 75th birthday on April 22, he was going to take his friends to Rome but the COVID-19 pandemic got in the way and they couldn’t all travel.
Instead, a friend is having a small dinner party for him in New York City, and he’s going with a friend. “Everybody has had their shots, and that’s what I’m going to do…It will be low-key this year.”
The older he gets, he said, the less he cares about making a big fuss out of every birthday anyway.
“What difference does it make? Old means old. It doesn’t matter which one.”
Though he’s taking some time to celebrate his 75th birthday, Waters has no plans to retire.
“No, God no,” he said last weekend while on a Zoom call with fans from London. “I jump out of bed every morning. It hurts to jump out of bed. I have aches and pains. But no, I’d go nuts if I didn’t work.”
That’s probably just as well because he has a lot going on. Between shooting episodes of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” getting ready for film festivals in several cities, planning a guided tour in Provincetown, and preparing for an exhibit of his private art collection at the Baltimore Museum of Art, he’s staying busy.
The ultimate multitasker, he didn’t even stop working when he went for a COVID vaccination recently.
“I signed an autograph when I was getting the shot,” he said. “Well, not at the moment, but right before.”
In a Zoom session organized by London’s Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities — an early birthday present of sorts because it drew fans from at least three continents — Waters announced that he just last week finished the book he’s been writing for the past three years, “LIARMOUTH,” a novel about a woman who steals luggage at the airport. It’s due out next year from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
He also expressed optimism that some events that had to be cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic will be back in 2021, including his Camp John Waters “sleepaway” weekend for superfans in Kent, Conn., and a new, renamed iteration of the Burger Boogaloo punk rock music festival that he hosts in Oakland, Calif.
There’s even a chance he’ll make another movie. Waters told his fans there’s still interest in “Fruitcake,” the children’s Christmas film that he’s been trying for years to make. “There is new possibility,” he teased. “That’s all I’ll say. I’m not going to jinx it.”
He’s waiting to hear about the several dozen spoken-word shows he performs around the country every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. “I think a lot of those decisions are going to happen in September.”
Most of all, he said, he’s just eager to make in-person appearances after a year in lockdown. Some of his engagements that were cancelled due to COVID have been rescheduled for the coming year, including appearances in New York, California, and Pennsylvania, and he’s adding others.
“I’m dying to get back on the road,” he said last weekend. “I’m still amazed that 20-something-year-old kids know who I am. I want to see what they look like.”
He’s wondering whether Meet-N-Greets – the sessions where he signs autographs and poses for photos with fans after a performance – will be possible in a post-pandemic world.
“Even before this, when I did the Christmas tour, I had Meet-N-Greets for usually 50 people” after a show, he said. “I’d always get sick because you have to hug everybody and then get on an airplane the next day. So I think Meet-N-Greets might never come back. I don’t know how they’re ever going to do that safely.”
On a personal basis, too, he’s yearning to get out and travel more.
“I want to go to a movie theater. I want to go to a concert,” he said. “I want to be able to have even a dull day out with other people.”
This year’s Oscars might be historic — but does anyone care?
Diverse nominees lacking LGBTQ representation
It’s Oscar weekend. Are you excited?
Unless you’re actually one of the nominees, odds are pretty good that you’re not – but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which is geared up to present its prestigious annual film awards for the 93rd time on Sunday night, really, really wants you to be. Why else, a week ahead of the Big Night, would they roll out the show’s producers for a press conference to drop hints that the upcoming broadcast would “look like a movie” and incorporate satellite hookups from “multiple locations?” It was a clear bid to drum up excitement.
More details came Monday, when a letter from that same trio – producer Steven Soderbergh (himself an Oscar winner for directing “Traffic” in 2000) and co-producers Jesse Collins and Stacey Sher – went out to the nominees. As it turns out, the ceremony will be held at LA’s historic Union Station (site of Saturday’s press conference), which will be treated “as an active movie set” in terms of COVID-related safety protocols, with “additional elements” of the show being incorporated live from Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre via satellite hook-up.
More interestingly, the letter revealed, “The first—and most obvious—point we want to get across with this year’s show is STORIES MATTER.” In keeping with that theme, nominees are requested to submit to a brief interview to “tell the story of your path to April 25,” as part of an effort to “highlight the connections between all of us who work in the movies and show that the process is uniquely intimate, collaborative, and fun.” The emphasis on “story” was further reflected by instructions about messaging in the speeches (“If you’re thanking someone, say their name, not their title… make it PERSONAL”) and a dress code described as “a fusion of Inspirational and Aspirational.” Whatever Soderbergh and crew have planned for the show, their letter leaves little doubt they intend to tightly manage the narrative it presents.
That’s not surprising, of course; Hollywood is in the business of creating narratives, and the one it takes most seriously is the one it creates about itself. Nevertheless, it’s particularly telling that the story it is working so hard to tell seems designed to brush its problem with inclusion comfortably into the background.
This year, the organization might well feel that when it comes to diversity, the nominations speak for themselves. For a year in which tremendous social upheaval has brought Black experience in America to the forefront of the public conversation, the Oscars have chosen an impressive number of Black-led films and Black artists among an overall slate that offers the most diverse lineup of nominees in its history. Women are also represented, thanks to the inclusion of Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman” among the Best Picture contenders and the first-ever two nominations for women – Fennell and Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”) – as Best Director. Additionally, Zhao, who is Chinese, is the first woman of color ever nominated in that category, Steven Yuen (“Minari”) became the first Asian-American to receive a Best Actor nod, and in the same category, Riz Ahmed (“The Sound of Metal”) became the first person of Pakistani descent to be nominated in any acting category.
In the midst of all this inclusion, however, the LGBTQ community – traditionally a stronghold for some of Oscar’s most ardent fans – has this year been largely left empty-handed, once again. Besides two Best Actress nods for women playing bisexual characters (Viola Davis and Andra Day, for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” respectively), there are no major nominations for films with significant LGBTQ content – though it’s worth noting that the aforementioned “Young Woman” features trans actress Laverne Cox in a prominent supporting role. While it’s not a problem for us to stand on the sidelines and cheer for the victories achieved by representatives of other marginalized communities, it’s becoming harder to ignore the nagging feeling that our willingness to forgive an institution that continues to disappoint and diminish us is really something akin to Stockholm Syndrome.
In any case, this year’s Academy Awards have the potential for making history. Nine of the 20 acting nominees are people of color, and at least two of them are considered frontrunners in their categories. Zhao could become the first woman of Asian descent to win the Best Director prize. And while the potential for those wins lends a kind of excitement to the proceedings, an inescapable feeling of “too little, too late” – coupled with a pandemic-induced awareness of the relative unimportance of awards like these in the greater scheme of things – makes it more difficult than ever, perhaps, to care.
With that in mind, here are the currently leading “official” predictions for the winners in the top six categories, based on a combination of Oscar history, industry buzz, review consensus, and plain old-fashioned gut instinct:
BEST PICTURE: “Nomadland” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7” are considered the front-runners, thanks to previous wins in the equivalent category at the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors’ Guild Awards, respectively. “Nomadland” is favored to win.
BEST DIRECTOR: Chloé Zhao, who has taken the directing prize at both the Globes and the BAFTAs, seems a sure bet for “Nomadland.”
BEST ACTOR: Chadwick Boseman, whose death in 2020 after a secret battle with colon cancer devastated fans and co-workers alike, would seem the inevitable winner for his performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” even without his already-racked-up wins at the Globes, Critics’ Choice, and SAG Awards. If he takes it – and it’s almost certain he will – it would make him only the second Best Actor winner to be awarded the prize posthumously (the first was Peter Finch, for 1976’s “Network”).
BEST ACTRESS: There are no clear front-runners here. With one high-profile win each under their belt Davis (SAGs), Day (Globes), Frances McDormand (BAFTAs for “Nomadland”) and Carey Mulligan (Critics’ Choice for “Promising Young Woman”) are all positioned as possible winners. However, with Davis already making history with this performance as Oscar’s most-nominated Black actress, the appeal of also making her the first to win in both Actress categories (her performance in 2016’s “Fences” earned her the Best Supporting prize) might just give her the edge.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Having won for his performance as slain Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah” at all the other major film awards, Daniel Kaluuya is the definition of a “shoo-in.”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: As is often the case, this category might be the most wide-open. Buzz has favored both Yuh-Jung Youn (“Minari”) and Maria Bakalova (“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”), but her win at the BAFTA Awards puts Youn in place as the probable frontrunner. If she wins, she will be only the second Asian actress to win an Oscar, after Miyoshi Umeki (1957’s “Sayonara”).
You can find out the winners when the Oscars air on ABC, Sunday April 25 at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET. But don’t worry – if you don’t care enough to watch, you can always Google it afterward.
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