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SAG winners shake up Oscar race

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Cast members from “Parasite” speaking to press backstage after their SAG Award win as Best Cast Performance in a Motion Picture (Image via YouTube)

While its recent announcement of a decidedly non-diverse slate of major nominees has drawn a firestorm of criticism for the Oscars, Sunday night’s presentation of the Screen Actors Guild Awards for 2019 served as a reminder that lack of inclusion is not just an Academy problem – it’s a Hollywood problem.

While the nominees going into the SAG presentation were more diverse than the roster for the upcoming Academy Awards (due partly to SAG’s recognition of television as well as film work), the balance was still skewed highly in a straight, white direction. Out of 40 total nominees in the individual acting categories, only 7 were for people of color; only one – for “Fleabag” actor Andrew Scott – was for a performer who identifies openly as LGBTQ.

Even so, SAG struck a powerful blow for diversity with its choice of winner for Best Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture (SAG’s equivalent of the Best Picture category), awarding the prize to the all-Korean ensemble of filmmaker Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite.” One of the year’s most critically-lauded movies, it is one of the few non-English-language films to be nominated in Oscar’s Best Picture category, and its surprise win at the SAGs can be seen as increasing the odds of a potential Academy victory, as well.

Some of the evening’s other choices in the film categories may likewise impact Oscar predictions, though in most cases the winners seemed to be cementing their places as front-runners in their respective categories.

Best Leading Male and Female Actor were Joaquin Phoenix (for “Joker”) and Renée Zellweger (for “Judy”), respectively, with both having already accumulated enough wins this award season to make them clear favorites to take home Oscar gold.

In the Supporting Male Actor category, Brad Pitt took home the prize for his role as a career stunt man in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood,” making him another likely front runner at the Academy Awards.

The win which might throw the biggest wrench into handicapping efforts for Oscar performance categories came with the win by Laura Dern (“Marriage Story”) for Best Supporting Female Actor. While each of the nominees for the Academy’s equivalent category has their supporters, none have been clearly identified as a front-runner, and Dern’s win last night may give her an edge at the Oscars.

In the television categories, Best Drama and Comedy Ensemble awards went to “The Crown” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” respectively, with “Maisel” star Tony Shalhoub winning as Best Male Actor in a Comedy Series, as well.

Best Female Actor in a Comedy Series went to Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“Fleabag”), while Best Male Actor in a Drama was awarded to Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones”) and Best Female Actor in a Drama was won by Jennifer Aniston (“The Morning Show”).

Rounding out the television category, “Fosse/Verdon” star Michelle Williams continued her awards sweep for her performance as Broadway legend Gwen Verdon as Best Female Actor in a TV Movie or Miniseries, and co-star Sam Rockwell took the prize as Best Male Actor in a TV Movie or Miniseries.

The evening’s other moments of note included the presentation by Leonardo DiCaprio of the 56th SAG Life Achievement Award to veteran actor Robert DeNiro, and SAG-AFTRA Foundation president Courtney B. Vance’s announcement of a $250,000 matching donation that Marilyn and Jeffrey Katzenberg had pledged in response to his own call to raise an additional $1.5 million for the foundation.

Katzenberg told reporters backstage at the ceremony, “The bedrock of what we do are actors and actresses — without them, we have nothing. So, my appreciation for them, and the inspirational goal that our chairman has set, seemed like the right time for us to step up.”

You can find the complete list of nominees and winners from last night’s SAG Awards at the SAG website.

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PHOTOS: Superstar Drag Review

Bombalicious Eklaver leads the show at Selina Rooftop

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Superstar Drag Review (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Bombalicious Eklaver held a Superstar Drag Review at the Selina Hotel Rooftop on Friday, Nov. 25. DJ Juba provided the music.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Books

Memoir reveals gay writer’s struggle with homelessness, rape

‘Place Called Home’ a powerful indictment of foster care system

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(Book cover image courtesy Legacy Lit/Hachette)

A Place Called Home: A Memoir
By David Ambroz
c. 2022, Legacy Lit/Hachette
$30/384 pages

For David Ambroz, 42, author of the stunning new memoir “A Place Called Home,” one of his childhood recollections is of himself and his siblings walking with Mary, their mother, on a freezing Christmas morning in New York City.

Today, Ambroz, who is gay and a foster parent, is a poverty and child welfare expert and the head of Community Engagement (West) for Amazon.

But, on that morning, Ambroz remembers, when he was five, he and his seven-year-old sister Jessica and six-year-old brother Alex were freezing. Mary, their mother was severely mentally ill. They were homeless.

Ambroz draws you into his searing memoir with his first sentence. “I’m hungry,” he writes in the simple, frightened, perceptive voice of a malnourished, shivering little boy.

As it got dark and colder, Ambroz recalls, he walked with his family, wearing “clownishly large” sneakers “plucked from the trash.” 

Five-year-old Ambroz remembers that the night before his family got lucky. They had dinner (mac and cheese) at a church “with a sermon on the side.”  

“We heard the story of the three kings bringing gifts to the baby Jesus,” Ambroz writes.

But the next day they’re still homeless and hungry. Talk about no room at the inn.

Young Ambroz doesn’t know the word “death,” but he (literally) worries that he and his family will die. Frozen, hungry and invisible to uncaring passersby.

Ambroz’s mom, a nurse, is occasionally employed and able to house her family in dilapidated apartments. But she’s soon ensnared by her mental illness, unable to work. Then, her family is homeless again.

Until, he was 12, Ambroz and his siblings were abused and neglected by their mother.

Ambroz doesn’t know as a young boy that he’s gay. But, he can tell he’s different. Instead of playing street games with the other kids, Ambroz likes to play “doctor” with another boy in the neighborhood.

Mary tells him being gay is sinful and that you’ll die from AIDS if you’re queer.

His mother, having decided that he’s Jewish, makes Ambroz undergo a badly botched circumcision. At one point, she beats him so badly that he falls down a flight of stairs.

At 12, Ambroz reports this abuse to the authorities and he’s placed into the foster care system.

If you think this country’s foster care system is a safe haven for our nation’s 450,000 kids in foster care, Ambroz will swiftly cut through that misperception.

From ages 12 to 17, Ambroz is ricocheted through a series of abusive, homophobic foster placements.

One set of foster parents try to make him more “macho,” rent him out to work for free for their friends and withhold food from him. At another placement, a counselor watches and does nothing as other kids beat him while hurling gay slurs.

Thankfully, Ambroz meets Holly and Steve who become fabulous foster parents. Ambroz has been abused and hungry for so long he finds it hard to understand that he can eat whatever he wants at their home.

Through grit, hard work and his intelligence, Ambroz earned a bachelor’s degree from Vassar College, was an intern at the White House and graduated from the UCLA School of Law. Before obtaining his position at Amazon, he led Corporate Social Responsibility for Walt Disney Television.

But none of this came easily for him. Coming out was hard for many LGBTQ people in the 1990s. It was particularly difficult for Ambroz.

In college, Ambroz is deeply closeted. He’s ashamed to reveal anything about his past (growing up homeless and in foster care) and his sexuality. 

At one point, he’s watching TV, along with other appalled students, as the news comes on about Matthew Shepard being murdered because he was gay. Ambroz can see that everyone is enraged and terrified by this hate crime. Yet, he’s too ashamed to reveal anything of his sexuality.

Over Christmas vacation, Ambroz decides it’s time to explore his sexuality.

Telling no one, Ambroz takes a train to Miami. There, he goes home with a man (who he meets on a bus) who rapes him.

“I run in no particular direction just away from this monster,” he recalls. “When I get back to my hotel room, I’m bleeding…I order food delivered but can’t eat any of it.”

“A Place Called Home” has the power of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.”

Ambroz’s writing becomes less powerful when he delves into the weeds of policy. But this is a minor quibble.

Ambroz is a superb storyteller. Unless you lack a heartbeat, you can’t read “A Place Called Home” without wanting to do something to change our foster care system. 

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Books

New book explores impact of family secrets

Her father was hiding his sexual orientation

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(Book cover image courtesy HarperOne)

The Family Outing: A Memoir
By Jessi Hempel
c. 2022, HarperOne
$27.99/320 pages

Don’t tell the children.

For most families in America in the last century, that was the maxim to live by: the kids are on a need-to-know basis and since they’re kids, they don’t need to know. And so what did you miss? Did you know about familial philanthropy, rebellion, embarrassment, poverty? As in the new memoir, “The Family Outing” by Jessi Hempel, did secrets between parent and child run both ways?

“What happened to me?”

That’s the big question Jessi Hampel had after many therapy sessions to rid herself of a recurring nightmare. She had plenty of good memories. Her recollection of growing up in a secure family with two siblings was sharp, wasn’t it?

She thought so – until she started what she called “The Project.”

With permission from her parents and siblings, Hempel set up Skype and Zoom sessions and did one-on-one interviews with her family, to try to understand why her parents divorced, why her brother kept mostly to himself, how the family dynamics went awry, why her sister kept her distance, and how secrets messed everything up.

Hempel’s father had an inkling as a young man that he was gay, but his own father counseled him to hide it. When he met the woman who would eventually be his wife, he was delighted to become a husband and father, as long as he could sustain it.

Years before, Hempel’s mother was your typical 1960s teenager with a job at a local store, a crush on a slightly older co-worker and, coincidentally, a serial killer loose near her Michigan neighborhood. Just after the killer was caught, she realized that the co-worker she’d innocently flirted with might’ve been the killer’s accomplice.

For nearly the rest of her life, she watched her back.

One secret, one we-don’t-discuss-it, and a young-adult Hempel was holding something close herself. What else didn’t she know? Why did she and her siblings feel the need for distance? She was trying to figure things out when the family imploded.

Ever had a dream that won’t stop visiting every night? That’s where author Jessi Hempel starts this memoir, and it’s the perfect launching point for “The Family Outing.”

Just prepare yourself. The next step has Hempel telling her mother’s tale for which, at the risk of being a spoiler, you’ll want to leave the lights on. This account will leave readers good and well hooked, and ready for the rest of what turns out to be quite a detective story.

And yet, it’s a ways away from the Sherlockian. Readers know what’s ahead, we know the score before we get there, but the entwining of five separate lives in a fact-finding mission makes this book feel as though it has a surprise at every turn.

Sometimes, it’s a good surprise. Sometimes, it’s a bad one.

A happily minimized amount of profanity and a total lack of overtness make “The Family Outing” a book you can share with almost anyone, adult, or ally. Read it, and you’ll be wanting to tell everyone.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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