If you, like me, found yourself struck motionless on the couch—jaw dropped, eyes wide open, cheeks tear-stained—then you may also have been watching The Golden Globes last night. And though I actually experienced that exact physical and emotional reaction watching Tina Fey portray Damien Francisco, “a professional volleyball player battling restless leg syndrome,” I’m referring to a different moment.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association presented Jodie Foster with the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award last night, and the iconic actress pretty much rewrote the rules for how to give an acceptance speech.
I didn’t know what to expect when Foster took the stage. Due to a DVR-enabled delayed viewing and the spoiler-ific temptation of various social networks, I knew something big was about to go down. But I had no idea that a lighthearted opening line (an SNL-inspired “I’m FIFTY!”) would evolve into one of the most poignant, dignified, heartbreaking, and inspiring acceptance speeches I’ve ever seen.
Many are referring to this as Foster’s “coming out” announcement, and in some ways it was. But branding it that way seems to oversimplify the multitude of messages packed into her seven-minute speech. According to Foster, “I already did my coming out a thousand years ago, in the Stone Age. Those very quaint days when a fragile young girl would open up to trusted friends and family and co-workers and then gradually to everyone that knew her, everyone she actually met.”
What seemingly began as a declaration of her long (loooong) debated, discussed, and dissected sexual orientation progressed into a commanding commentary on the modern state of our celebrity-obsessed culture. “But now apparently I’m told that every celebrity is expected to honor the details of their private life with a press conference, a fragrance, and a primetime reality show,” Foster said.
“If you had been a public figure from the time that you were a toddler, if you had to fight for a life that felt real and honest and normal against all odds, then maybe then you, too, might value privacy above all else,” she added. “Privacy.”
This was perhaps the moment my jaw first hit the floor. Rarely do such famous figures so brazenly and publicly fight the increasingly acceptable intrusion we inflict upon their lives. It was incredibly jarring and moving to hear someone who’s had the media, the fans, the world dissect her personal life for the 47 years she’s been in the film business take a stand. And hearing Foster articulate the ridiculousness of a society intent on exposing the celebrities’ private lives truly drove the point home: it’s just not our business.
But many continue to think it is. Critics are saying Foster’s done a disservice to the LGBT community by not addressing her sexuality directly. Michael Musto of The Village Voice called the speech “a weirdly defensive, self-rationalizing defense of the celebrity closet.” Diane Anderson-Minshall, executive editor of The Advocate, agreed, saying “It was cryptic and defensive and we started thinking it was a joke. She sounded a little passive-aggressive to a lot of LBGT activists. This woman who obviously has been afraid to come out in the public sphere has been out in her private life for decades.”
Afraid? Or just unwilling to share one of the only remaining private details in her very, very public life?
I tend to think it’s the latter. Calling this Foster’s coming out speech, no matter how “cryptic” some say it was, doesn’t do justice to what the actress had to say. It does raise the question of whether or not stars are obligated to speak out on behalf of everyone who may benefit from their public advocacy. And while I thank the universe every day for the “loud and proud” (Foster’s words) celebrities who fearlessly fight for equal rights, I don’t think every public person should be forced into that role against his or her will. Foster’s determination to protect the scarce shreds of privacy that remain following almost five decades in the spotlight, is admirable in my opinion.
Then of course, Foster segued into further jaw-dropping candor and gut-wrenching sincerity when she spoke directly to her friends and family. By the time she spoke directly to her mother (who, according to reports, suffers from dementia), tears were falling freely in the Globes ballroom, and presumably throughout living rooms across the country.
“Mom, I know you are inside those blue eyes somewhere,” she said, “and that there are so many things that you won’t understand tonight, but this is the only important one to take in: I love you, I love you, I love you. And I hope that if I say this three times, it will magically and perfectly enter into your soul, fill you with grace and the joy of knowing that you did good in this life, you’re a great mom. Please take that with you when you’re finally okay to go.”
As if those words weren’t enough to send a nation spiraling into an emotional vortex, Foster finished out the speech with perhaps another enigmatic statement regarding her career. “This feels like the end of one era and the beginning of something else,” she said. “Maybe it won’t be as sparkly, maybe it won’t open on 3,000 screens, maybe it will be so quiet and delicate that only dogs can hear it whistle. But it will be my writing on the wall. ‘Jodie Foster was here.’ I still am. And I want to be seen, to be understood deeply, and to be not so very lonely.”
And that confession of loneliness encapsulated everything Foster had to say about a human life spent under an inhumane and intrusive media microscope. Hopefully Foster can take heart knowing that the multitude of supporters and fans she gained from that unbelievable speech will stand behind her in whatever decisions she makes.
And of course, the comfort of Amy Poehler and co-host Fey couldn’t hurt, either. “We’re going home with Jodie Foster!” Poehler declared at show’s end. Clearly, those ladies were moved too.