Milk Oscar speeches resonate
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Milk Oscar speeches resonate
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Much has been made about how great it is that screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and actor Sean Penn won Academy Awards for their part in bringing director Gus Van Sant's Milk to life. Their acceptance speeches have exploded across every corner of the blogosphere, both obtaining legendary status almost the exact moment they were delivered.

But what, in the long run, do these wins and their accompanying comments really mean for the LGBT community? Are they a lasting show of solidarity by the creative Hollywood elite, or are they instead nothing more than well-rehearsed sound bites engineered to earn credibility with a segment of the populace known for their affinity for spending major dollars at the local multiplex?

In the case of Black, I see nothing calculated or cynical about his eloquent speech. As an openly Gay man in Hollywood, it goes without saying he has probably seen his share of homophobic bigotry. There is a reason many in the Motion Picture Academy, especially within the acting branch, cling like timid pussycats to the interior doors of their closets, as coming out is akin to certain and sudden career suicide.

Just ask Rupert Everett. In a recent piece posted on the entertainment website, the popular My Best Friend's Wedding actor claimed he was passed over for the male lead in Basic Instinct 2 (which, in retrospect, probably wasn't such a bad thing) because of his sexuality. "I wanted to be a movie star," he says in the interview. "I had a difficult set of circumstances to deal with, particularly for a movie career. Being Gay, really. It just doesn't work."

So when Black, also the writer of Showtime's hit series Dexter, spoke, you couldn't help but feel it came directly from the heart. "When I was 13 years old, my beautiful mother and my father moved me from a conservative Mormon home in San Antonio, Texas to California, and I heard the story of Harvey Milk," Black said tearfully. "And it gave me hope. It gave me the hope to live my life. It gave me the hope that one day I could live my life openly as who I am and then, maybe, even I could even fall in love and one day get married."

If anything, Penn's words were even more powerful as he somewhat surprisingly took the Oscar for Best Actor. Yet as strong as they were (especially considering the pro-Proposition 8 protesters outside the Kodak Theater), pardon me if I had a teensy bit of trouble buying them. "I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against Gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren's eyes if they continue that way of support," he said, his voice noticeably cracking as he did so. "We've got to have equal rights for everyone."

I agree with every single word, but for the blatantly political, now two-time Academy Award-winner, giving magnificent chameleon-like performances and blatantly showcasing his left-leaning political musings as if they were an unimpeachable badge of shimmering honor seemingly go hand in hand. As a critic, I adore the guy. As a Transwoman trying to live her life as openly and honestly as she knows how, I can't tell when he's speaking from the heart, or just dripping platitudes to keep his name in the public forum.

In the end, I lean towards believing that these speeches do far more for the LGBT community than I, or anyone else, probably realize. On the biggest artistic stage of them all and in front of tens of millions of people, these two shouted that equality isn't just something to be benevolently bestowed, but an inalienable right people should rise up and demand. How can I possibly disagree with sentiments like that?