Guest Blogger

Whose Oscar Speech Is It Anyway?

Filed By Guest Blogger | March 03, 2014 5:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Academy Awards, AIDS, celebrities, Dallas Buyers Club, HIV, HIV/AIDS, Matthew McConaughey, Oscars, PrEP, self-absorbed

Editor's Note: Guest blogger Damon L. Jacobs is a licensed psychotherapist and author in New York City. You can find out more about his unique approaches to health and wellness by visiting

Matthew-McConaughey-oscars.jpgSince when are Hollywood actors expected to speak on behalf of oppressed groups? By what standards is someone's commitment to helping other measured? And whose responsibility is it to stand up for important social issues?

These are some of the issues that are currently being debated back and forth, in light of Matthew McConaughey's speech at last night's Academy Awards ceremony. Upon winning the award for Best Actor for Dallas Buyers Club, McConaughey thanked "all 6000 members of The Academy," the film's cast and crew, his mother, his wife, his kids, his late father, himself in ten years, as well as God.

He pretty much expressed gratitude to everyone and everything except for the people with HIV/AIDS portrayed in the film, and people living with HIV today who are still struggling.

Here's a full transcript, via The Wire:

Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you to the Academy for this--all 6,000 members. Thank you to the other nominees. All these performances were impeccable in my opinion. I didn't see a false note anywhere. I want to thank Jean-Marc Vallée, our director. Want to thank Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, who I worked with daily.

There's a few things, about three things to my account that I need each day. One of them is something to look up to, another is something to look forward to, and another is someone to chase. Now, first off, I want to thank God. 'Cause that's who I look up to. He has graced my life with opportunities that I know are not of my hand or any other human hand. He has shown me that it's a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates. In the words of the late Charlie Laughton, who said, "When you've got God, you got a friend. And that friend is you."

To my family, that who and what I look forward to. To my father who, I know he's up there right now with a big pot of gumbo. He's got a lemon meringue pie over there. He's probably in his underwear. And he's got a cold can of Miller Lite and he's dancing right now. To you, Dad, you taught me what it means to be a man. To my mother who's here tonight, who taught me and my two older brothers... demanded that we respect ourselves. And what we in turn learned was that we were then better able to respect others. Thank you for that, Mama. To my wife, Camila, and my kids Levi, Vida and Mr. Stone, the courage and significance you give me every day I go out the door is unparalleled. You are the four people in my life that I want to make the most proud of me. Thank you.

And to my hero. That's who I chase. Now when I was 15 years old, I had a very important person in my life come to me and say "who's your hero?" And I said, "I don't know, I gotta think about that. Give me a couple of weeks." I come back two weeks later, this person comes up and says "who's your hero?" I said, "I thought about it. You know who it is? It's me in 10 years." So I turned 25. Ten years later, that same person comes to me and says, "So, are you a hero?" And I was like, "not even close. No, no, no." She said, "Why?" I said, "Because my hero's me at 35." So you see every day, every week, every month and every year of my life, my hero's always 10 years away. I'm never gonna be my hero. I'm not gonna attain that. I know I'm not, and that's just fine with me because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing.

So, to any of us, whatever those things are, whatever it is we look up to, whatever it is we look forward to, and whoever it is we're chasing, to that I say, "Amen." To that I say, "Alright, alright, alright." To that I say "just keep living." Thank you.


Many are subsequently taking umbrage at this omission, referring to McConaughey as vain, selfish, narcissistic, and "disgusting." They believe McConaughey "should" have thanked Ron Woodroof, whose life the film is based upon, or at least said the word "AIDS" in his acceptance speech. There is a general feeling that McConaughey "owes" the activist community this debt of appreciation, because he had the audacity to deliver a first-rate performance of a real-life hero struggling with AIDS.

What I look for in Oscar speeches, as well as in any public statement, is authenticity. Is the person speaking being true to themselves? Do they have integrity? Are they saying one thing while meaning another? Do they claim to care for a group of people for whom they have no interest whatsoever?

This was indeed the case twenty years ago when many Hollywood celebrities were "encouraged" (i.e. expected) to wear red ribbons to demonstrate support for people living with HIV/AIDS. This false sense of humanity led many actors to make shallow onstage statements of caring, hollow gestures of concern, insincere proclamations of compassion.

One could certainly assert that a false sense of concern in front of 45 million people is better than no concern at all. But I, for one, found the practice to be lacking in integrity, and proudly wore my ACT-UP T-Shirt proclaiming, "Red Ribbons Are For Gift-Wrapping" to protest such fallacious ideals. I'd still rather deal with an authentic bigot than a contrary liberal any day.

Keep in mind that for many public figures, social justice is, and always has been, an authentic commitment. Certainly Elizabeth Taylor excelled at trumpeting HIV/AIDS services, and this was an integral thread of her public and private work in the last three decades of her life. Susan Sarandon, Judith Light, Richard Gere, and yes, Alec Baldwin, are only a few examples of people who have consistently and authentically dedicated parts of their life to political action. Given an opportunity to make a public speech, they will often use it to lend support and attention to their cause.

It would have been nice to add Matthew McConaughey to that list. It is disappointing to me that he did not use one second of his three-minute acceptance speech to say the word "AIDS." But McConaughey's indifference has nothing to do with my commitment.

aids-ribbon-cloth.jpgI have been working in HIV prevention and education in one form or another for the past 22 years. Having a celebrity's endorsement has nothing to do the work that is important and meaningful to me. It won't stop me from actively talking about PrEP, TasP, and continuing to help people understand how to enrich emotional and sexual intimacy responsibly.

Instead of crucifying McConaughey for expressing his authentic self, why not use this as an opportunity to decide how you want to communicate your concerns? If you think HIV/AIDS rights need more attention, then you give it attention. Write about it in social media, talk to your friends about PrEP, donate money to a cause, be the change you want to see in the world.

Focusing narrowly on the limitations of others does not change the world. Openly sharing your values, commitments, and then taking action based on those values and commitments, does change the world. What if we started from there, and allowed award-winning, gumbo-loving actors to take care of their themselves?

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