Expanding The Dream

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I agree and wish people would actually do this in the year of our paranoia 2011. To me a perfect world would be one where we didn’t have “Black History Month” or “White History Month” or “Purple History Month” because you wouldn’t need them. How about you teach kids in school about people, all people? Great people and their achievements no matter what color their skin is, what sex they are, where they live, what language they speak or who they love? How about that?

It’s very simple. As long as you keep putting yourself or others into boxes, you set them apart as different. As “not the same as you” instead of putting everyone together and judging people on their actions alone. Wow, what a concept! So simple and one that continues to elude us.

Last night I was thinking about someone to use as an example especially in light of the hate rhetoric that’s been coming from the Westboro “Church”. Perhaps it’s also because I am deep into writing about Disneyland at the moment. Today I wanted to talk about Howard Ashman.

For those of us who are creatively inclined, who enjoy Disney movies from “The Little Mermaid” forward, who appreciate creative talent in general, we owe Howard Ashman a debt of gratitude. He and his musical partner Alan Menken changed the way the world sees Disney films. They helped raise the animation department from the dead. There are parents the world over who praise Disney films, especially ones such as “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast” as decent children’s fare and the Disney company as a bastion of “family values”. Some of these people, I’m sure, have very strong feelings about homosexuals. Many of those feelings are negative.

Guess what people? If it wasn’t for a gay man, namely Howard Ashman, you wouldn’t have those movies. He and Menken were hired by Disney to fix their upcoming projects. Hot off Broadway from their campy success of “Little Shop of Horrors”, it was Menken’s music and Ashman’s words that introduced the “Musical style” into Disney films. Honestly, have you READ The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson? It’s DEPRESSING as are most of his stories. They were morality plays. In the story, the little mermaid, who is unable to kill the Prince in his sleep so she can become a mermaid again, allows him to live with his human Princess while she dies and becomes sea foam. She is taken pity on and allowed to be an angelic presence in the world due to her selfless act but still… yeah.

Beauty and the Beast? Have you read that story as well? Walt Disney had been wanting to animate this story for years and years but always hit the same wall. It’s boring. The main section of the book is “a story of two people eating dinner”. Yeah. Ashman and Menken transformed these stories. Howard’s drive and determination made these movies into gold. Beauty and the Beast is the only animated film ever to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Yes, a gay man. A homosexual gifted your children with beauty and grace and joy.

Howard Ashman died of AIDS in 1991. He never lived to see the finished film of Beauty and the Beast. He was shown a rough cut before he went blind. I was working at AIDS Project Los Angeles during that time. I can tell you, AIDS was very different then. You watched people you knew die around you all the time. You watched them grow splotchy lesions on their bodies, waste away to skeletons and die. The fine Disney studio contributed money. Under the table. In private. Like it was a dirty secret. A large percentage of Disney’s creative employees are gay. It wasn’t “fashionable” to support AIDS so much yet. Some people did. The brave ones. The ones who knew people, all people, need compassion. AIDS never cared what color your skin was. AIDS was an equal opportunity killer.

After Howard died and Beauty was nominated for Best Score and Best Song along with Best Picture. The studio didn’t want William Lauch, Howard’s longtime companion, to go to the podium with Menken to accept Howard’s Oscar if they won. God forbid the entire planet saw (a) the gay lover of a beloved creative genius there to accept an award on behalf of his partner, (b) see a gay man whose partner died of AIDS, and (c) put a public face on the contributions of gay people at Disney (the family studio) and a human face on the AIDS epidemic. Thank the Gods for Alan Menken who ignored this idiotic suggestion and made sure Lauch was on the podium as was his place. If he had been a woman accepting the award for her husband, no one would have cared. Thank the Gods there are still people in the World who are brave instead of hateful.

Some things have changed since then. People aren’t terrified of people with AIDS anymore. Not in the way it use to be when people wouldn’t even touch you or touch something you touched because they were terrified they would catch AIDS. Do you know they use to treat people with cancer that was as well? Well, as primitive, scared monkeys I suppose at least we are consistent.

Today we have a President in the White House who is part African American. Homosexuality is more accepted and main stream on television, in movies, in people’s lives. However there are still people who wouldn’t think twice of killing the President just because his skin is dark. There are still people who torture, murder and deny rights to people just because they love members of their own sex. There are still people who want to kill others because their religion is different from their own. There are still people who are the focus of violence and discrimination because they don’t have a penis. We have made many strides in fifty years. Will it take another fifty before we fail to see skin color, religious differences, gender or sexual orientation? Will it take that long before everyone has basic human rights and only your actions curtail your freedoms?

How long will it be before we are all judged not by the color of our skin, sex, nationality and religion but by the content of our character?

Posted on January 17, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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