Gay slurs: 'Offensive' Isaiah Washington vs. 'delightfully profane' Sharon Stone
At a press conference at this year's Golden Globes ceremony, all hell broke loose after actor Isaiah Washington of the hit ABC show Grey's Anatomy uttered the word “faggot,” one of the most offensive gay slurs in the English language. Co-stars berated him; the media pounced on him; ABC executives considered canning him; gay and lesbian anti-defamers offered to counsel him.
At the time, Washington wasn't calling anyone any names. He was simply denying – whether truthfully or not – that he had referred to gay co-star T.R. Knight as a “faggot” on the Grey's Anatomy set.
Much brouhaha about nothing
Apparently not one to care about gay slurs, actress Sharon Stone thinks the Isaiah Washington brouhaha has been much too much ado about nothing whatsoever.
Known for Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct and Martin Scorsese's Casino, and for the critical and/or box office disasters The Specialist, Sliver, The Quick and the Dead, Diabolique, Gloria, Catwoman, and Basic Instinct 2, Stone told gossip columnist Liz Smith:
“I've been called a bitch – and a lot worse – for years. And you know what, so what? [italics in the original] People who think that aren't going to change their minds. And I wouldn't dream of sending them to therapy to 'rehabilitate' their feelings. How absurd. … Please, I call all my gay friends 'big fags.'”
Smith goes on to fawn over Stone's “delightfully profane 'great broad' status,” including her involvement in charities and her lamenting the fact – or rather, the unproven allegation – that Another Country and My Best Friend's Wedding actor Rupert Everett lost the role of James Bond as a direct result of his out-of-the-closet status.
Gay slurs = gay slurs
Unfortunately, Liz Smith's article doesn't tell us whether Sharon Stone calls her lesbian friends “big dykes,” her non-gay male friends “big pricks,” and her non-gay female friends “big cunts.”
We also never learn what sort of “delightfully profane” name-calling the Best Actress Oscar nominee (Casino, 1995) and Worst Actress Razzie winner (Intersection & The Specialist, 1994) applies to her black friends, her Jewish friends, and so on.
Something else that goes unmentioned in Smith's piece: in case one (or more) of Stone's sons turns out to be gay, will she refer to him as a Big Fag? And how would she feel if others called him that?
'Little Miss Sunshine' & its 'fag rag' hit
Anyhow, when it comes to humorous gay slurs, Sharon Stone is hardly alone.
In Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' Little Miss Sunshine, veteran Alan Arkin (Best Actor nominee for The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming, 1966; The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, 1968) plays a heroin-addicted grandpa who tells it as he sees it. At one point in the Michael Arndt-scripted feel-good family comedy, Arkin tells Steve Carell – in the role of an emasculated, desexualized gay scholar – to go get himself a “fag rag.”
The Arkin-Carell scene is there for snickers and guffaws. And it works. At an industry screening, the – liberal? – audience pissed themselves laughing.
A critical and box office hit, Little Miss Sunshine has gone on to win the 2006 Producers Guild Award, in addition to several critics' awards for Michael Arndt's screenplay plus four Academy Award nominations: Best Film, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress for Abigail Breslin, and Best Supporting Actor for “fag rag” line deliverer Alan Arkin.
More worrisome than gay slurs
So, should Isaiah Washington be fired from Grey's Anatomy? Or would a few “gay slurs are bad” therapy lessons be enough?
Could Sharon Stone's statement “I call all my gay friends “big fags” be evidence that one can perform charitable deeds and still be both crass and insensitive?
Whatever your views on the use of gay slurs – and while the Isaiah Washington debacle rages on the in the U.S. media – one should keep in mind that out of the Hollywood limelight gays continue to be denigrated, persecuted, and murdered.
Whether Iraq's Muslim militias call guys who have (or wish they could have) sex with guys the Arabic equivalent of “faggots” or the affectionate Arabic version of “big fags,” Iraqi gay/bi/tri/etc. men will go on being slaughtered because, big or small, fags and faggots are ultimately perceived as one and the same: depraved perverts, not only lesser men but also less than human. (A tragic irony is that like most everybody else in Iraq, gays led a much safer life before the American-led invasion.)
Curious though hardly surprising detail: A Google News search for “Isaiah Washington faggot” brought in 1,685 results. A Google News search for “gays murdered Iraq militias,” brought in two.
'Hounddog' rape sequence sparks outrage
From real-life gay slurs to on-screen child rape: Starring Dakota Fanning and Robin Wright Penn, screenwriter-director Deborah Kampmeier's 2007 Sundance Film Festival entry Hounddog has infuriated those whose grip on reality is based on what they see in movies and TV shows. Described in the Sundance schedule as “a Southern Gothic tale [set in 1960s rural Alabama] about a girl finding the strength to overcome debilitating obstacles,” Hounddog shows Fanning's 12-year-old character getting raped.
As Fanning explains in the New York Times:
“You know, I'm an actress. It's what I want to do, it's what I've been so lucky to have done for almost seven years now. And I am getting older. February 23 is my birthday, I'll be 13 years old. And I will be playing different kinds of roles. I won't be able to do the things I did when I was 6 years old when I'm 14. And that's what I look forward to – getting to play new roles that aren't too old for me and aren't too young for me, that are just at the right time.”
Even so, in the United States' Christian/right-wing media, some have called for Kampmeier's head while others have demanded that Hounddog be banned. Others yet have accused Fanning's mother of exploiting her child.
'Conservative' priorities & 'Hounddog' cast
Considering the uproar, it looks like a case of simulated movie rape – according to reports, the camera focuses on Fanning's facial reactions to the assault – is more worthy of attention than millions of children (and teenagers) around the globe dying of malnutrition and preventable diseases; being physically assaulted by parents and guardians; working long hours in unsafe and unsanitary conditions; and so on. But that's Planet Earth in the early 21st century.
Also in the Hounddog cast:
David Morse. Isabelle Fuhrman. Jill Scott. Jody Thompson. Ryan Pelton (a.k.a. Blake Rayne) as Elvis Presley.
For the time being, Hounddog has no release date.
Scathing 'Hounddog' reviews
December 2008 update: Whatever their political and/or religious views, most U.S. critics have been – to put it mildly – unimpressed with Hounddog. Below are a couple of examples.
In the New York Daily News, Elizabeth Weitzman asserts, “Rarely has there been a movie as misguided as Hounddog, which self-righteously indulges in exploitation while loudly decrying it.”
In the San Francisco Chronicle, Steven Winn remarks that, re-edited rape scene or no, “nothing can redeem this mendacious swamp of a film that shamelessly exploits its young heroine in the name of raising sympathy for a blighted childhood. The whole distasteful mess is sunk up to its neck in a brew of Southern Gothic atmosphere and hocus-pocus sentimentality.”
Sex-related controversy frequently helps to sell movies, ranging from The Moon Is Blue and Baby Doll in the 1950s to Last Tango in Paris and Deep Throat in the 1970s. Perhaps because of the dismal reviews – or perhaps because the January 2007 Sundance Film Festival controversy is now all but forgotten – Hounddog bombed at the U.S. box office.
An Empire Film Group release, Deborah Kampmeier's $3.75 million-budget Southern Gothic drama has collected a disastrous $131,961 since its September 2008 domestic debut.
Jessica Lange vs. Iraq War
In other movie celebrity news, two-time Oscar winner Jessica Lange (Best Supporting Actress for Tootsie, 1982; Best Actress for Blue Sky, 1994) was interviewed by Michael Coveney for The Independent. Below is a memorable quote.
“George Bush really has whipped up the most poisonous scenario of neighbor against neighbor over the war in Iraq. It's disgusting. I can't tell you. There were times when it was really lovely to be out there and against the war. But then I had anti-war stickers on my car and some big fucking pick-up with an American flag tried to drive me off the road. It was scary and I was scared.”
After Coveney suggests that things could be worse if “President Bush wasn't defending her 'way of life' and 'civilized' (read privileged) [parenthetical comment in original] values against the Islamic threat,” Lange responds:
“What? What are you saying here? I thought you were a nice person. My anti-war work started four years ago when the drums were beating. The few of us who really spoke out at the time took such a beating in the press – even the liberal press – and on CNN; I was on a CNN news program with an arms inspector who had been in Iraq, and we were treated like shit. Everything he said – and it was all factual – has come to pass.”
Lange goes on to talk about threats of blacklisting, summing it all up with a downbeat – albeit perfectly reasonable – “You begin to wonder why we bring children into this world. We're on the precipice. No question.”
Also worth noting, at one point Coveney writes that Bob Fosse's Oscar-nominated 1979 musical All That Jazz was Lange's first film. Perhaps she'd like others to think so, or perhaps Coveney simply made a mistake the size of the title character in John Guillermin's 1976 King Kong.
'A Glass Menagerie' & UNICEF work
Jessica Lange is currently starring in Tennessee Williams' A Glass Menagerie at the Apollo Theatre in the West End. Besides her film, stage, and TV work, Lange acted as UNICEF ambassador for five years and has worked with HIV-infected children.
Among Lange's other notable movies are Bob Rafelson's The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981), Martin Scorsese's Cape Fear (1991), Bruce Beresford's Crimes of the Heart (1986), Stephen Gyllenhaal's Losing Isaiah (1995), Des McAnuff's Cousin Bette (1999), Wim Wenders' Don't Come Knocking (2005), and Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers (2005).
For her small-screen performances, Lange has been nominated for two Emmys in the Best Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie category, for Glenn Jordan's A Streetcar Named Desire (1995), also from a Tennessee Williams play, and Jane Anderson's Normal (2003).
Sharon Stone Basic Instinct 2 image: MGM.
Robin Wright and Dakota Fanning Hounddog image: Empire Film Group.
Jessica Lange in Blue Sky image: Orion Pictures.
“Gay Slurs: Sharon Stone vs. Isaiah Washington To-Do + Hounddog Rape Controversy & Jessica Lange vs. Iraq War” last updated in September 2018.