I'm generally skeptical of any award given out so closely to the release of an honoree's film. It's an extra press release, another sound bite, and a little something for the likes of Entertainment Tonight, Extra!, and TMZ to shill. Yawn.
That said, it was worth following The Hollywood Reporter's extensive coverage of the Human Rights Campaign's Visibility Award, presented to Cloud Atlas codirector Lana Wachowski.
For months prior to Cloud Atlas's release, I had heard snide remarks about how "awful" Wachowski looked in Side by Side, the Keanu Reeves–produced documentary about digital filmmaking in which she appears. I heard whispers among the press concerning whether or not they could talk about Lana's "change" as it relates to her films. I read about fans who complained about no longer being able to refer to Lana and her brother Andy as "the Wachowski brothers," as they'd been known since 1999, when they directed The Matrix. Coverage of Wachowski in both the mainstream and industry press has played out like a case study of how deeply tied our identity is to socially constructed definitions of gender—as well as how quickly, once those definitions are challenged, society at large claims to no longer know or recognize you.
There's also a part of me that wishes the media wouldn't be so quick to sensationalize everything so quickly, though. One of the first blurbs that came out after the HRC award was regarding Wachowski's confession of suicidal thoughts. Indeed, the headline for the speech reads, "Lana Wachowski Reveals Suicide Plan, Painful Past in Emotional Speech (Exclusive Video)." I know it's all in the name of clicks (and it's still The Hollywood Reporter's most popular story, one week later), but it would sadden me if this was the main takeaway of the coverage. Yes, there has been struggle in Wachowski's life and the journey to embracing her true self, but too often LGBTQ identity is written as a tragedy.
Narratively speaking, the award ceremony was a celebration with reflection. I appreciated the humor in Wachowski's speech, and the many ways she focused on the positives. Likewise, her mention of Gwen Araujo was important as a reminder of why her own story of acceptance is not yet the norm in the trans community. It's a well-stocked 25 minute speech full of personal backstory, her gratitude for the friends and family in her life, and a real confession: "I am here because when I was young, I wanted very badly to be a writer, I wanted to be a filmmaker, but I couldn't find anyone like me in the world and it felt like my dreams were foreclosed simply because my gender was less typical than others."
Whatever your thoughts on Cloud Atlas—and it's getting pretty mixed reviews, as well as outright criticism—Wachowski's visibilty is important to Hollywood, an industry not always known for walking the walk of true diversity. f you haven't read or heard her speech yet, get to it. You may or may not want to bring tissues.