We all played the telephone game as kids. The kid at the end of the line would whisper into the next one’s ear, and by the time it reached the end of the line the message had been mangled beyond recognition. Like many children’s games, we were supposed to learn something from it. It was a lesson about whispering rumors, about listening carefully, about questioning the authenticity of messages passed from one person to another. It was an illustration of how our brains work, how we play an active role in the interpretation of what we hear.
Since Jodie Foster’s Golden Globes speech last night, her words have been examined, analyzed, criticized, cheered, misunderstood, misinterpreted, and applauded. It seems everyone heard something different. I watched the speech and then watched it again after the Internet blew up with “Did she or didn’t she just say…” propaganda. At times, I wondered if some people really saw the speech and if they did, were they listening.
I’m going to preface all of this by confessing that I am a huge Jodie Foster fan. I’ve been infatuated with her since the very first time I saw her on “Mayberry RFD.” I resembled her enough to be asked for autographs as a child. Unfortunately, this resemblance did not follow me out of my early twenties. Jodie is seventeen months younger than me, and I can assure you the years were much kinder to Ms. Foster. Didn’t she look fabulous?
I followed her career, like most of the lesbians I know. It seems that many of us adopted Jodie into our families, before we ever knew “our family” would not be the one formed by blood relations. We all “knew,” if not what exactly it meant, that Jodie was one of us. She never let me down. While I did not like every movie she made, I have immense respect for Jodie’s acting abilities. In my opinion, “Nell” was one of her finest performances and she did it without the crutch of language. Looking back at those first appearances she made, from the Coppertone ads through her incredibly mature performance in Taxi Driver, it is plain to see that even as a child she was an extremely gifted actress. The camera loved Jodie, and so did we.
Jodie grew up with me, in a time where being an out lesbian was a career killer. Be it teacher, soldier, or actress, an out woman could find her career at an end with one whispered word, “lesbian.” In my former profession, teacher, I would have been fired on the spot with absolutely no recourse. That “moral turpitude” clause meant my employer got to decide what acceptable morals were. I stopped being a teacher in 2010, but that stigma is still alive 'n well out here in the Heartland. Once out of that world, I blew the closet doors off. While I was out to my family and friends, I had never, and I mean never, acknowledged rumors or “knowing” looks. My job depended on it. So, while many people I worked with, including my principal, “knew” and said nothing, it would have taken only one whispered word to end my career. When Jodie raised her hands last night and crowed, “I’m fifty,” I understood the smile on her face. It said so much more than how old she was. It said to me, “I’m fifty. I made it this far, and by God, the rest of this ride is going to be on my terms.”
That’s where the telephone game analogy comes in. People heard what they wanted. I heard a declaration of freedom. When Jodie said she had an admission to make, teasing us to edges of our couches, her “I’m single” declaration sent me into peels of laughter. I got it. I understood that she knew we were all waiting with bated breath and then dropped the punch line with perfect timing. She followed it up by very eloquently saying that her sexuality was not a secret to her family and close friends. I understood the line about coming to terms with her sexuality as a young girl. I saw a hint of pain there, and remembered the confusion and longing that accompanied that same time in my life. She said enough, issue over, at least for me. Not so much for others.
I’ve read that people are disappointed that she didn’t stand up for all those little girls out there, waiting for a role model to look up to. Hey, most of those little girls don’t even know who Jodie Foster is and their role models are not fifty-year-old actresses, gay or straight. If Jodie is someone a little girl looks up to, I think she is a fine example to aspire to. She has admitted she’s gay. How many times does she have to say it? Does she really need to say “I am a Lesbian,” using those exact words? The role model I saw last night gave us a glimpse of her family, her loves, and her passions. I know that she supports The Trevor Project and other organizations benefitting the LGBT community. She is a successful businesswoman, a loving mother and daughter, and a loyal friend who reaches out to those she cares about in their darkest times. Role model? You bet!
Interpreting her speech as a retirement declaration just baffled me. What I heard is that she is moving away from the big box office world of Hollywood. She seemed to be saying that she was going to be doing what she wanted, telling the stories she wants to tell, and the hell with the critics and other people’s expectations of her. Welcome to the world of self-publishing Ms. Foster. <BIG GRIN> In front of or behind the camera, I’ll follow you. I can’t wait to see what Jodie wants to tell us, without the censorship of Hollywood studios.
She was criticized for “rambling” and “appearing nervous.” There are other parallels with my life and Jodie’s. I was also an actress. I say “was,” but once you are, you never really aren’t. Despite what people think, most actors are very shy and private people outside of the public’s eye. That nervous laughter Jodie is so famous for, that’s a self defense mechanism. Every word she has uttered in public for forty-seven years has been scrutinized. The telephone game mangling of her intentions has happened time and time again. Jodie was being herself and that is oh so much more frightening than playing a character. I remember the first reading I was about to do. I was nervous, really nervous. My wife asked me why, after all the performances I had participated in, would I fear a public appearance. I told her it was because I was going to have to be me. I fully understand Jodie’s nervousness, the adrenaline that was blasting through her veins. Thirty years in the theatre business and my voice shook through that first reading, as if I had never stepped foot on a stage.
I could keep going, address all the things people are saying, but what would be the point. Like the accusation that she did not address her career, the reason for the award. If all that was seen was the speech, then the viewer missed her life go by on the screen prior to her taking the podium. What more could she say? “Look, look what I did. Aren’t I fabulous.” People saw and heard what they wanted. It’s just more telephone games. I can only know what I heard, what I saw. I heard a woman I greatly admire talk about her life, her loves, her sorrows, her joys, and her impending loss. She grew up in front of us, her life’s work recorded on film. I am proud of the woman she became. I respect her right to privacy and believe many more people would, if they knew just how terrifying her life has been at times. Jodie Foster owes me no explanations, no declarations, no glimpses into her bedroom. I think she’s given us more of herself than we ever deserved.
The bill is paid in full, Ms. Foster. Now, go live your life. Do as you please. Pay no attention to the clamor. And thank you for being my sister, even if you didn’t know it. I “knew” and it was all that mattered.