One of my strongest memories of watching a Robin Williams movie is seeing The Birdcage (based on the great La Cage Aux Folles) in theaters in 1996. The movie followed a string of hits for the actor in the early 90s, including Awakenings, Hook, Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Jumanji. This may well have been at the height of his fame.
I was freshly graduated from the big ten school Michigan State University where I had done a lot of student TV comedy. Before that, I had spent years doing community theater. I always surrounded myself with artistic people. Despite these experiences, I don’t think I knew anyone who was openly gay. The world was not a welcoming place for homosexuals. Sure, we knew gay people existed… somewhere. San Francisco, of course. New York, most likely. As for me, I was not a bigot, but nor was I particularly an ally.
And along came The Birdcage starring Williams, possibly the most popular comedian on the planet at the time. “Come on,” the previews for the movie seemed to say, “Come laugh at the gays with Robin Williams!” Not that the movie looked particularly mean-spirited, but nor did it look necessarily like a celebration of gay culture. Just that it would be a safe way to laugh at THOSE PEOPLE because, you know how they are.
And I remember distinctly something happening to the audience during the movie. Sure, we did laugh at the antics and mannerisms of the characters, but we also sympathized… empathized even with them. We liked them, and found ourselves rooting for them to overcome the prejudices they were facing. We wanted them to be themselves, and we wanted them to be happy.
And the movie managed all this while feeling like a fun, lighthearted comedy. Not preachy, not pushy, never in-your-face. For that, I think, it was all the more effective.
Today, we’re a couple years shy of The Birdcage turning 20 years old, and the world is a very different place. Homosexuals are out and proud. We’re on the verge of marriage between gay partners being legal across the nation. I am so glad to know students in the school where I now work growing up completely open and unapologetic about who they are.
Lots of people contributed to this change. Individuals who came out publicly or privately. People who campaigned in big ways, and people who lived their lives as quiet, positive examples. There are many reasons the world is a more accepting place today, but one of those reasons is The Birdcage.
Thanks for helping make the world a friendlier place, Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Nathan Lane, Hank Azaria, Gene Hackman, and Diane Wiest.
Thanks for helping make us better people, Robin Williams.
"I AM CUTE" with Rocket and Groot
New work on Redbubble - available on shirts, prints, stickers, phone and tablet cases - it’s the cutest damn thing I’ve ever made!
How to paint your dragon
Happy 75th birthday, Batman. I made you a card.
BATMAN turns 75 this week! So, here’s a little piece of Bat-fun from the bat-archives of capnwacky.com.
Please note all of the above costumes are still better than anything Shumakerian.
Digital cut-out recreation of Mary Jane’s first-appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man (modeled after the art by John Romita).