In a room full of stars, which one is the sun?
That’s a thing your Carpetbagger often wonders as he wanders through a dense thicket of celebrities at an award-season party. At these soirees, almost everyone is famous, but there is always one person so additionally compelling — think a Meryl or a Leo — that the center of gravity shifts when they enter.
The Hollywood parties this weekend, all held in advance of Sunday’s Golden Globes, haven’t lacked for big names like Bradley Cooper, Nicole Kidman and Viola Davis. Still, they were reduced to mere satellites whenever Billy Porter showed up, swanning through each crowd in a new wrap dress and cackling with evident pleasure.
“I’m black, I’m turning 50, and I’m fierce!” Porter crowed to me Friday night.
He was at W Magazine’s party at the Chateau Marmont to celebrate his Golden Globe nomination for best actor for the FX drama “Pose,” and though most of the men in our orbit wore tasteful suits, Porter was in a black dress with peekaboo cutouts and a wide-brimmed Gucci hat that was half-cowboy, half-coven. “It reminds me a little of Diane Keaton,” said Sarah Silverman, coming over to pay respects.
Earlier in the day, Porter had turned heads at the American Film Institute luncheon, where he posed for pictures with the likes of Mahershala Ali while wearing a goldenrod gown. No other dress in the room received quite as many compliments.
“One of the things I’ve realized is that I’ve always had a gender-fluid sensibility with clothes, and it was so squashed by homophobia,” Porter told me over champagne. A Tony-winning run in Broadway’s “Kinky Boots” helped Porter get back in touch with his feminine side, and “Pose,” which employs a large cast of mostly queer and trans actors, has only further spurred Porter’s desire to use fashion as a vehicle for self-expression.
“I hope that through what I’m doing, it can reach a younger generation, especially the little black boys,” Porter said. “It’s different for us.”
As we spoke, I received my umpteenth push alert of the weekend about Kevin Hart, the comedian who withdrew as host of the Oscars and then, after a vociferous defense from the talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres, seemed briefly on the verge of getting his gig back. The sticking point was Hart’s refusal to offer a convincing apology for homophobic jokes he had made in his stand-up routine and on Twitter, where he had once mused that if he caught his son playing with his daughter’s dollhouse, he would “break it over his head.”
“Show business likes to masquerade as being inclusive and diverse,” said Porter, though attitudes like Hart’s still persist. Even in the fashion world, where you might expect labels to leap at the chance to dress a Golden Globe nominee, “when we ask the houses for male and female clothes, we get the response, ‘We don’t think you should be wearing that,’” Porter said.
Still, Porter won’t be sartorially deterred. “I’m grown, and I’m going to wear my dresses,” he said. “I represent something different. I represent a new voice. I represent a challenge to the status quo.” And while that has made him the center of attention at every Globes party, Porter hopes he won’t be sidelined during the main event.
“Hopefully I win,” he said. “I’m the black gay guy, I’m the poster child now. People need to see what that looks like.”
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