Now, since becoming parents we don’t see nearly as many movies as we used to. At least I know I don’t see as many movies as I used to. There was a time when I’d see one ever other weekend. And when the Oscars rolled around, I’d have seen most if not all of the nominated performances and films. (Even won a few Oscar pools, because there’s some truth in the joke that the Oscars is essentially the gay equivalent of the Super Bowl.) Now, the movies we see have to be carefully chosen, lest we pour the energy and time required to organize a date into seeing a dud. And usually we discuss which movie to see.
Not this time. I told him that if I see any movie over the holidays, it’s going to be Dreamgirls.
I haven’t seen a sneak preview of the movie, as Keith must have, but I’ve heard the buzz (including Oscar buzz for Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson) and just about all of it is good. Now, either the folks behind the movie are working overtime to reach their most likely audiences (gay men, women, and black women, in particular) or it’s just that good. Either way, like a lot of other people who will be sitting in the theater, I will be waiting to see one particular moment in the movie; the same one that, when it happened in the show, launched a star into orbit and the show into legend.
You know the one I’m talking about.
I didn’t see it on Broadway, but when I was in college, a touring company doing Dreamgirls came to our campus, and a friend bought me a ticket as a birthday present. And even then it didn’t matter who was singing the song, or if they managed to come close to Jennifer Holiday’s definitive performance. For the same reason it doesn’t matter what Jennifer Hudson does with the song (though I hear she more than does it justice). Because the song is, in some ways more important than the singer, though combining the song with the right singer makes for theater (and movie?) magic.
There’s a reason why Jennifer Holiday’s performance of the song brought audiences on Broadway to their feet. It’s the same reason why, when I was growing up, and going to a performing arts magnet school, almost every other black girl wanted to be Jennifer Holiday. It’s the reason I couldn’t walk down the halls at school for a while without hearing one of them singing at least the opening bars, and a few white girls to boot. (And, truth be known, I performed it myself a few times in high school, in front of the mirror on my dresser.) It’s same reason that the song (and Jennifer Holiday’s performance of it) made Dreamgirls Effies’ story.
Because it’s everybody’s story, whether you’re black, white, male, female, transgendered, gay, straight, or anything else. (‘Cause all that falls under the category of “Human,” dontcha know.) It speaks to just about anyone who’s ever experienced loss or rejection (no coincidence that the original show was created by a gay man, Michael Bennett), and that’s pretty much everybody; whether you lost a relationship, a job, a friendship, your home, your dignity, your reputation, your money, your identity or anything that was such a part of who you thought you were that you thought you couldn’t live without it. (Remember? “I’m not livin’ without ya. Not livin’ without ya. I don’t wanna be free!”).
And who hasn’t? Whatever it was, there was probably a moment when, something inside of you welled up and said “No! I’m not nothing and I deserve more than nothing! I may be fat, fucked up, loud, late, and a pain in the ass. But dammit I’m not nothing!” The flip side of this moment, by the way, is Celie’s moment in The Color Purple, as the man and the relationship that held her captive fade in the distance and she declares, “I’m poor, black, I may even be ugly, but dear God I’m here, I’m here!” Somewhere in all of us is, as a reviewer put it in 1981, that “voice that won’t take no for an answer.”
And, like Effie, in that moment many of us probably stomped, pleaded, cursed, cried, hollered, screamed, and shouted trying to hold on to what we thought we had and what we thought we needed, or at least we wanted to do all of the above, or only did it inwardly. What makes the moment and the story compelling is that we’re watching it from the other side of that moment of pain and loss, while knowing something that Effie doesn’t know in that moment because we didn’t know while we were in it: that there is the other side.
Effie’s going, despite the ferocity of her protest, is inevitable, as are any of the losses that any of us experience. It’s not that she’s going, but where, how she’s going to get to the other side of that loss, and what it’s going to look like. Effie gets’ there, and we want Effie to get there. Because the truth is most of us are not and do not get to be Denna Jones or Diana Ross for that matter. (Ross, for the record, was offered a part in the movie, as Deena’s mother. She turned it down.) Most of us are one of the other Supremes. What we want to know, and what Effie eventually shows us, is that there ain’t nothing wrong with that. In fact, it can be fabulous. So can she, and thus, so can we.
Speaking of fabulous, I though this was fun.
That will have to hold me until the hubby and I catch a matinee on December 26th.