‘We must make noise’

Speaking at Black Tie Dinner, deaf activist and actress Marlee Matlin urges LGBT community to never give up the fight

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TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Recalling the barriers she has faced as a hearing-impaired person in a hearing world, and especially as a hearing-impaired actress in the entertainment industry, Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin told the capacity audience at the 30th annual Black Tie Dinner last weekend that “we must make noise as often as we can” to win the fight for equality.

Matlin recalled how she overcame the barrier of her hearing impairment as a child, and later while working in the entertainment industry, with the support of her family and friends.

When critic Rex Reed said that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science members voted Matlin best actress winner in 1986 for her role in Children of a Lesser God, they only did so out of pity, Matlin said it was her old friend Henry Winkler who “reminded me that I could be anything I wanted to be.”

And when she was attacked by a “small but vocal” group of deaf activists for speaking rather than signing the names of the nominees when she presented the 1988 best actor Oscar, Matlin said it was Whoopi Goldberg who told her, “Girl, it’s time to do what’s right for you.”

It was the guidance and friendship she got from them and from other friends and family that helped her defy the critics and overcome the obstacles in her path.

“No one should ever take no for an answer,” Matlin told the Black Tie audience, speaking in sign translated. “We can break down the barriers of prejudice if we work together. Every day, I vow never to give up the fight.”

While tying the fight for LGBT equality to her own battle to overcome prejudice against the deaf and others with physical challenges, Matlin also explained her own personal tie to the LGBT community, other than her role as a lesbian on The L Word: One of her brothers is gay.

When her brother told their parents he is gay, Matlin said, “They said that was OK, as long as he settled down and married a doctor.” Today, she added, her brother and his partner, a doctor, have been together for 26 years.

“We have to make noise,” Matlin continued. “We must all make noise on Twitter, on Facebook. We must make noise to our elected officials, as often as we can. We must fight every day until hate and discrimination are eliminated.”

And, she said, those fighting for equality can’t allow their opponents to set up barriers to deflect them from their goals.

“The only barriers out there for all of us are all up here, in our minds,” she said. “There are those who try to handicap our minds with hate, with fear and prejudice. We cannot let them do that.”

Matlin capped off an evening that included a speech by Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese and entertainment by emcee Caroline Rhea and singer Taylor Dayne.

This was the first year the Black Tie committee has brought in someone to emcee the dinner, and Rhea kept the audience laughing throughout the night. The comedian also helped pump up proceeds for the event by donating two tickets to attend Hugh Jackman’s one-man show now on Broadway with Rhea, and then meet Jackman after the show. Two individuals paid $12,500 each for the tickets.

Dayne and a single back-up singer, performing a mixture of her new songs and her iconic hits, had the audience dancing in the aisles and crowding the edge of the stage, raising their smart phones to take photos and shoot video as Dayne danced and sang.

Also during the evening, gay veteran Eric Alva, a former Marine who was the first U.S. serviceman injured in the invasion of Iraq, was presented with the Elizabeth Birch Equality Award for his work in pushing for repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, gay actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson of ABC’s Modern Family was presented with the Media Award, and local advocates Chet Flake and his partner, the late Bud Knight, were presented with the Raymond Kuchling  Humanitarian Award.

In accepting the award, Alva said that although in the days immediately following his injury — he lost a leg when he stepped on a land mine — he wished he would have died, he has since found renewed purpose in advocating for LGBT equality, in the military and elsewhere.

“I just could not resolve the sacrifice I made with the way my country treated me like a second-class citizen,” Alva said. “I’ll stay in the fight with you, and we will stay in the fight together until it’s finished.”

In accepting the Kuchling Award, Flake explained that he and Knight had never consciously decided to volunteer in the LGBT community — “It just happened. And one thing just led to another. When we saw something that needed to be done, we just tried to do it.”

Flake also applauded the progress the LGBT community has made. “Dallas has evolved tremendously,” he said. “Our community has become more respected, because people have become more educated.”

Black Tie Co-chairs Nan Arnold and Chris Kouvelis noted during the dinner on Saturday that tickets to the events had been sold out since August, the earliest sell-out in the event’s history.

Arnold said this week that final totals have not yet been determined. She said checks will be distributed to Black Tie’s 17 local beneficiaries and to the Human Rights Campaign during a reception Dec. 15 at the Dallas Museum of Art.

—  Kevin Thomas

And the Oscar goes to… Oprah

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences announced its recipients of honorary awards, and the surprised (and surprised) recipients include two African-American actors and a makeup artist.

Oprah Winfrey will received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for her charitable work. (Presumably, that does not include the masturbatory final week of her talk show.) Darth Vader himself, James Earl Jones, will receive an award for life achievement. Neither has won before; Winfrey was nominated for supporting actress for The Color Purple; Jones was nominated for actor for The Great White Hope. Winfrey has appeared in only three feature films; she has lent her voice to several others, and acted in and produced TV movies.

Makeup artist Dick Smith will also receive an award from the Governors. He’s best know for his work on The Godfather and Amadeus.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Motion Picture Academy adds (gay) members

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences released its list of new members this weekend, and the gays seem to be making inroads.

Membership in the Academy is by invitation only, and it’s sometimes surprised me to learn who is not already a member — especially when you know who is. (Would it surprise you to know Dakota Fanning has been a member for several years, but David Duchovny was just invited?) It normally helps if you get a nomination, which accounts for invitations this year to actors John Hawkes and Jennifer Lawrence (both nominated last year for Winter’s Bone), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) and Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom). But what I notice in this year’s list isn’t so much the actors, but the directors. (Members are invited as parts of “branches,” meaning they get to select the nominees in that category for the Oscars each year.)

Of the eight invited directors this season, three are openly gay … and not only gay, but out-and-proud in their filmmaking.

• Lisa Cholodenko was nominated for an Oscar last year for her screenplay to The Kids Are All Right, about a lesbian couple (including Oscar nominee Annette Bening, pictured) raising their children. She was invited by writers and directors branches. Her films virtually always address gay themes, including High Art and her work on the TV series The L Word.

• Gregg Araki, the Asian-American gay filmmakers whose indie production confront serious issues of gay life, such as HIV status in The Living End. His other films include Totally Fucked Up and Mysterious Skin, his most acclaimed mainstream effort.

• John Cameron Mitchell has made only three films; his latest, Rabbit Hole, had a Hollywood star (Nicole Kidman, pictured with Mitchell) and mainstream cred. But his first two films — the transsexual rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch and the near-pornographic sexually frank indie Shortbus — pushed the limits of what you’d think the Academy would endorse.

Other nominees of interest include actors Gerard Butler (300) and Russell Brown, Jennifer Garner, Mila Kunis and Beyonce Knowles; director Tom Hooper (who just won an Oscar for The King’s Speech); documentarians Ami Bar-Lev (My Kid Could Paint That) and Sebastian Junger; and writer Aaron Sorkin (Oscar winner for The Social Network).

—  Arnold Wayne Jones