Last summer I had a consequential lunch at the Los Angeles Athletic Club with my friend Victoria Person. Like me, Person ended up in Los Angeles by way of San Diego. She was newer to LA, but I was too, at least in a way. A man I had dated for a year and a half abruptly ended our relationship earlier that year. The construct in my head that I would be joining him in San Francisco had slowly given away to the realization that I would be staying right here in the City Angels.
As Person and I talked about life here in LA, we bonded because we both lamented the loss of security we felt in San Diego. The newness of our lives here enticed and excited us, but the city felt solitary, unconnected and indifferent to our contributions. I suspect many in Los Angeles have felt this way.
During our conversation I verbalized a new commitment to life here and, more importantly, a personal philosophy about how I wanted to give back. In the discussion with Person, I said that I wanted to focus on two charitable endeavors, one inside of my community and one outside of my community. I’m still actively working to identify the charity outside of my community, but this past Sunday I began a focus to support the work of the Victory Fund to serve my community.
Since 1991 the Victory Fund has been at the forefront of electing gay and lesbian men and women into political office. Dozens of organizations in the gay rights arena deserve support and I will continue to support others, most notably the Williams Institute because I believe it does the most vital work for our community. However, after my own career in politics I feel best suited to serve in this capacity because I can ultimately serve the Victory Fund or its candidates beyond merely writing checks.
Fittingly, at the brunch on Sunday, Speaker John Perez quoted Rabbi Hillel who said “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?” I feel this sums up why I wanted to do work for my community and work outside of it.
There will surely be more about this subject in future, and probably pleas for contributions. As for the snarky commentary about the brunch that readers of this blog have come to expect, I do have some. . .
First, Senator Tammy Baldwin chose to “attend” by sending a video of herself and I never understand why people think this is a good idea. Honestly I think a live telephone call patched into the ballroom would work better. Message videos of this genre feel a little like something out of an old sci-fi flick . . . Greetings Earthlings, we have come in peace . . .
Second, the President of the Victory Fund, Chuck Wolfe joked numerous times about how unbelievable it was to be speaking in the same room that hosts the Golden Globe Awards. He wore the shtick too thin and in any case violated a precept that he presumably teaches candidates: know your audience. For most of the people in attendance, the International Ballroom at the Beverly Hilton represents just about the most uninspiring location possible for this type of event because so many other events of the same milieu use it so often.
Finally, this commentary applies to other organizations as well, but I feel that charity events in Los Angeles are in danger of becoming over-produced to the extent that it threatens to drown out the authentic voice and message. I would equally complain if people satisfied themselves with the old school rubber chicken dinner — so I am pleased to see creativity. However, it feels like someone got the idea that a charity event in Los Angeles should look and feel like the Oscars and I just don’t agree. The Oscars are a façade made for people at home on their television and good fundraising events connect the people in the room with the passion and importance of the mission. The production of the event needs to enhance that or get out of the way.
. . . On Friday night I was the guest of Juan Camacho for a screening at Fox of 12 Years a Slave. I have read other social commentary complaining that the usage of superlatives in our society is watering down their power and as I strive to write about the film I feel this is true. When people say the 405 is a living hell, how do you ultimately write about a film that portrays hell on earth?
The film is based on a true story of Solomon Northrup, a black man from upstate New York who is defrauded and convinced to come to Washington, DC where he is then kidnapped and chained into slavery. It follows his journey and explores the evil, barbarism, brutality, and inhumanity that was slavery in the American South.
I cried during the film and even today I’m having a difficult time writing an intellectual response rather than the emotional response. I suppose that’s the point. We call things unspeakable horrors but ultimately speaking about them accomplishes the only atonement we’re capable of doing. The only thing more ignominious than slavery having existed would be to forget the story of all of those who suffered under it.
Everyone needs to see this film, but I urge you to go with someone you love. It’s extraordinarily difficult to watch and raises very painful introspection. Scenes that at first appear to give the viewer a respite from pain often take a violent and unexpected turn. A scene in the house with a decanter will haunt you long after the film because it’s so cold blooded and unexpected. Although highlighting any particular scene is like trying to decide which day in hell is the hottest.
It’s also a film that you will want to discuss. The main character finds himself in several morally complex scenarios. He also meets a handful of morally complex characters and a set of others who are just pure evil. For example, Paul Dano plays a villainous overseer early in the film with the same irritating, wheedling and obnoxious tone that made me so happy to see him killed in There Will be Blood.
But I take it back. Somehow, if anything positive can be taken from the film it’s that anger and violence corrode everything they touch. That’s a message that we always need to hear, even as it relates to Paul Dano, who is any case a minor character. Chiwetel Ejiofor steals the show with his believable, understated performance as Solomon Northrup. Michael Fassbender courageously takes on a role that will burn him in your memory as the wicked and loathsome Edwin Epps.
Although I live in Los Angeles, I am not the sort of person with any real fluency or credibility to discuss the field for this year’s Oscar. But my gut says this will be the winner. I just don’t see how anything else will come close. It bravely tackles a subject we have long avoided in this country and it does so with luminous cinematography that transports the audience to rural Louisiana. You must see it.
Los Angeles, California