French stars come late to gay marriage fight
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Unlike stars in the US, French celebrities have, until recently, been hesitant to speak out for gay marriage and adoption. As protests continue ahead of Tuesday’s final parliamentary vote on the marriage bill, star-powered support remains muted.
From Lady Gaga to Brad Pitt, Anne Hathaway to George Clooney, Kim Kardashian to Jay-Z and even conservative Clint Eastwood, it is hard to come up with an American celebrity that has not at some point spoken out in favour of gay marriage.
But in France, where street protests both for and against a new law that will legalise same-sex marriage and adoption have continued in the days leading up to the final vote on the bill (Tuesday, April 23), the big names have remained oddly silent.
Unlike in the US, where LGBT activists rely on stars to be cheerleaders and trendsetters when it comes to marriage equality, getting people involved through videos, ad campaigns, and pronouncements in interviews or via Twitter, French actors, musicians and other high-profile artists have been slow to take up the cause.
‘Frustrating, but not surprising’
“It’s not in French culture for stars to take political positions. It’s relatively rare,” explained Judith Silberfeld, editor-in-chief of French online LGBT magazine Yagg. “They’re supposed to do their job, and nothing more.”
That tradition of French artists staying out of politics has become a sore spot for LGBT groups and marriage-equality campaign leaders here, who have courted support from actors, singers, and TV personalities with minimal success.
“Of course we’d love for there to be more celebrities coming to the marches, speaking out in interviews, making videos,” she said. “Their silence has been frustrating, but not surprising.”
French stars have, on occasion, passionately adopted certain political issues: leading lady Emmanuelle Béart was a visible figure in the defence of undocumented immigrants and former iconic actress and sex symbol Brigitte Bardot chose to abandon her screen career to devote her time to animal rights activism.
But “even for big things like racism, where it would be very easy to speak out against it without any risk, very few celebrities have been vocal,” Silberfeld said.
Stars start supporting the cause – without speaking out
In the past few months, growing numbers of French celebrities have proven willing to take a stance in favour of gay marriage and adoption. Well-known performers like Elie Semoun, Josiane Balasko, Charles Berling, and Zabou Breitman have voiced their opinion that gay couples in France should be allowed to get married and adopt children.
Perhaps the most widespread showing of support has come in the form of French photographer Olivier Ciappa’s much-publicised campaign of black-and-white images of film actors and actresses - such as Mélanie Laurent (co-star of Mike Mills’ film “Beginners”) and Antoine de Caunes - posing with pro-gay marriage and adoption signs and slogans.
Much rarer have been full-throated declarations of solidarity, as from one of France’s most famous actors, François Cluzet, who recently took to the French press to back the marriage-equality movement and denounce those fighting against it: “Do we ever talk about denying straight people the right to marry? No!” he told regional daily newspaper La Nouvelle République (based in central France). “So get lost, straight people, it’s not about you. We just want to give the same rights to gay people; for me, it’s the fair thing to do, and it should already be the case.”
Still, the majority of French stars who have come out in defence of marriage and adoption equality did so late in the game, after pro-gay-marriage President François Hollande and his Socialists were already in the Elysée Palace and held majorities of both houses of Parliament – in other words, once the bill had an almost certain chance of being adopted into law.
Moreover, few of those stars have made gay marriage and adoption their signature issue, as several of their American counterparts have enthusiastically done.
“With the photos, it’s easy to take a position,” Silberfeld noted, referring to Ciappa’s project. “It’s a rather timid way of supporting the cause. I’d prefer they did videos or interviews in which they explain why they are for marriage equality.”
Still, Silberfeld was quick to add, their backing is nevertheless appreciated.
“It’s better than nothing,” she said. “And better late than never.”