It was about reaffirming Hollywood’s need for a neutered version of diversity.
1. On Sunday, Imitation Game writer Graham Moore won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. During his speech, he urged young people to “stay weird, and then when it’s your turn, and you are the one standing on this stage, please pass this message on.”
Which is all well and good, but what does it mean to “stay weird” in this context? Moore has a beautiful moment in his speech where he publicly discusses his depression for the first time. As someone who also grappled with depression and suicidal thoughts in my teenage years, Moore’s openness resonated with me deeply. But then… things got, well, literally weird.
Moore went on to say, “I’m standing here and I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere: Yes, you do. I promise you do.” This confused the hell out of me, because it seemed like it was a coming-out story. In fact, most people did.
GRAHAM MOORE!! OPENLY GAY MAN TELLING THE STORY OF AN OPENLY GAY MAN!! #Oscars2015 #Pride
— wcruz73 (@Wilson Cruz)
Graham Moore’s speech is an opportunity to remind you: if you’re young, gay/questioning & at risk, there is help: http://t.co/k6iytI7O7Z
— Esquiremag (@Esquire Magazine)
But Moore is not gay. His speech was not about LGBT youth, many of whom experience depression because of the homophobia and transphobia in which our culture is mired. His speech was not even about the reality of Alan Turing’s life itself. Moore’s speech — moving, emotional, most assuredly sincere — nonetheless traded in vagueness and “weirdness.”
Because what is weird? Is weird depression? Is weird feeling suicidal? Moore’s depression is nothing to make light of, but by connecting his story to Alan Turing’s, his speech demanded addressing actual gay, lesbian, and transgender people who are having suicidal thoughts. Alan Turing wasn’t weird; he was a brilliant gay man who killed himself because his government chemically castrated him. Turning the reality of himself — the pride and incredible pain — into the useless “weird” is a disservice to his memory and to young queer people who very much need to know they come from a legacy of brilliant, talented, successful queer people. Because let me tell you, as a gay black man, my suicidal thoughts were for different reasons than just feeling “weird.” Gay and transgender people aren’t murdered daily because they’re “weird.” And they don’t have the privilege of staying weird in spaces that are only reaffirming to white men. Six transgender women of color that we know of have been murdered so far this year. These women were not weird. To simplify oppression into a hashtag-ready catchphrase is deceptive to the point of near cruelty.
Moore opened his speech saying, “Alan Turing never got to stand on a stage like this and look out at all of these disconcertingly attractive faces. And I do. And that’s the most unfair thing I think I’ve ever heard.” Equating Turing’s plight with not being able to stand on a stage and accept an Oscar is troubling. I’m not sure Turing had any desire for that. As a gay man whose life was outlawed by his country, Turing probably just wanted to have sex with a man he was in love with without fear of government torture. He deserved more than to be castrated in real life and castrated in Moore’s script that removed any reference to his sexuality. Moore and the film’s star, Benedict Cumberbatch, have both spoken publicly about their desire to focus on the man and not his sexuality. Cumberbatch explained to The Wrap that the film was “not an exploration of someone’s sex life. If you need to see that to understand that he’s gay, then all is lost for any kind of subtle storytelling.”
Graham Moore > Dustin Lance Black
— ryanmer (@Ryan Shattuck)
When people assumed Moore was gay, he was quickly crowned the next Dustin Lance Black. This was erroneous. Milk was a film that embraced Harvey Milk’s radicalism, his sex life, and managed to make the story contemporary in the midst of voting on Proposition 8 in California and, in turn, Dustin’s speech did the same.
In Black’s speech he said, “but most of all, if Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he’d want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are less than by their churches, by the government or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally, across this great nation of ours.”
That’s a speech that was explicitly for LGBT teens and said so. It sent them a message. There was none of that in Moore’s speech, which was mostly preaching to the choir. The chorus of people who championed Moore’s speech online were mostly out gay men who were excited about the prospect of another out gay screenwriter reaffirming the notion that their lives are important. But for those who don’t have the privilege of being white and attractive, they deserve more than a “stay weird” mantra that’s nothing more than a new incarnation of “It Gets Better.”
The “It Gets Better” campaign was initially criticized for its unbearable whiteness. It’s not hard to see why. The mantra has evolved into attractive, white gay models coming out on YouTube and being awarded money by Ellen DeGeneres and television roles by Ryan Murphy. Out gay actors like Matt Bomer get Golden Globes. Or host the Oscars like Neil Patrick Harris. But like Moore, these are still white men. They’ll get a change on their stage.
But men like that have already had their moments in the spotlight. Moore’s speech, inspiring for his willingness to discuss his depression publicly, was a step back in terms of gay visibility. We don’t need a straight, white male who wrote a straight-washed movie about Alan Turing as our savior. We need diverse women and men who are looking to the future, not people looking to past and crafting a speech that will appeal in its vagueness to anyone who’s “weird.”
The Oscar campaign for The Imitation Game asked for us to “honor the man.” Telling kids to simply stay weird doesn’t do that — it ignores the fact the very tortures Turing suffered under British law in the ’50s are being inflicted on the non-privileged, non-white, queer men and women of the present.