It’s harder to maintain that position as a public figure when the culture’s homophobia is gradually thawing around you, though, and Foster has over the years been called out by activists for not making an overt public proclamation of her assumed sexuality. She did so within the castle walls of the Hollywood creative community, praising her then-partner, Cydney Bernard, at a 2007 industry event. But until the Golden Globes speech, she had no interest in engaging us, the consumers. Maybe she was terrified of being consumed.
Still, when does the need for privacy become an act of hiding? What does a public figure owe to her public, to the culture wars, to people like her? The sphere of persona around Foster has prompted these questions even as she has seemed unsettled, uncertain, or uninterested in addressing them. She is a rarity: a movie star who resists being locked into a public image. That’s a culturally perverse stance, and one with which you can argue all day, but it’s also her right as a human being. Thus the Golden Globes dodge, “I’m . . . single.” Whatever else we hear from Jodie Foster on a podium, you can almost guarantee it won’t be the words, “I’m gay.” That would be to play the game by the media’s rules rather than hers.
The irony is that Foster is articulate as hell in person, with a wicked sense of humor about herself and a mind that never stops clicking. I’ve interviewed her during movie publicity tours; you can’t shut her up. She loves talking about the process of filmmaking and about creative relationships on and off the set. She doesn’t care what you think of Mel Gibson; he’s her friend and that’s that. And when we spoke prior to the release of her most recent acting-directing effort — that brave, foolish movie called “The Beaver” — she allowed that if she were 18 all over again and knew what she knows now, she probably wouldn’t choose to be an actor. That everything you give isn’t, in the end, worth what you have to give away.
So maybe her speech was about coming out of the closet, as far as she thinks we deserve to know. And maybe she is calling it quits. Probably not; backstage after the speech, Foster told the press that she’d never stop acting entirely (“You’d have to drag me behind a team of horses”) and that she intends to focus increasingly on her efforts behind the camera. She’s a professional, after all.
Maybe that speech was just a way for Jodie Foster, the person, to finally fire Jodie Foster, the star.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.