From Hollywood’s perspective, there’s a cloud over Barack Obama’s inaugural. Now the question is whether the weather that day will simply be overcast or stormy.
Obama’s selection of Orange County mega-pastor and bestselling author Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his swearing in has hit liberal Hollywood in one of its sorest spots: the passage of Proposition 8, California’s ban on gay marriage, which Warren strongly supported. In fact, he has compared same-sex nuptials to approving polygamy and pedophilia.
Reaction in the entertainment industry -- where interestingly, Warren has his own powerful ties -- has been swift, angry and bitter. (And nothing undermines a good party quite like disappointment and hurt.)
“Barack Obama is a very smart student of history,” said longtime celebrity publicist and gay activist Howard Bragman. “He saw that Bill Clinton did damage to his early presidency by appearing to pander to the gay and lesbian community. Obama has chosen a different tack.
“What he didn’t realize was how much untapped energy there was in the gay and lesbian community because of the passage of Prop. 8,” said Bragman. “Obama didn’t realize, after all the support he got from the gay and lesbian community, we feel betrayed right now.”
The passage of Proposition 8 galvanized activist Hollywood in a way that the campaign had not.
Whether out of outrage or guilt, actors, filmmakers and other industry types have been on the front lines of protests and calls to overturn the proposition.
While none of the senior activists are advocating a boycott of the inaugural, as some grass-roots voices on the Internet are, they are calling on Obama to make some concrete gestures showing he understands their concerns.
Democratic political consultant Chad Griffin, who this week was named by the Advocate, America’s leading gay publication, as one of its People of the Year, thinks that it’s up to Warren to let Obama off the hook and withdraw.
“Rick Warren needs to realize that he is further dividing us at a time when the country needs to come together,” said Griffin, whose Hollywood clientele includes Rob Reiner, Michael King and Steve Bing. “I think he needs to gracefully step aside.”
As for Obama, Griffin said: “He has a long history of standing up for and defending equal rights. I believe and hope that calling on Warren was just a innocent mistake by the transition team.”
Warren has his own history with liberal Hollywood. He was instrumental in encouraging support among evangelicals for the Al Gore-inspired, Oscar-winning documentary on global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth.”
At the film’s packed, star-studded Los Angeles premiere a few years ago, which Warren attended, the pastor (sitting a few seats away from Sharon Stone) enthusiastically voiced support for reducing carbon emissions and expressed outrage over official neglect of the global warming issue. Afterward, he hugged and congratulated one of the film’s producers, Lawrence Bender, and vowed to do whatever he could to get the word out.
And Warren delivered. Many credit his efforts with making global warming and environmental stewardship issues in young evangelical congregations across the country. Similarly, his own church’s work to ameliorate the suffering of HIV-positive Africans has drawn the support of many film celebrities.
It’s because of that that activists like Griffin think that an appeal to Warren’s conscience might be a way to resolve the controversy.
Griffin said he planned to ask for a meeting with the pastor to make the case that Obama should pick someone else to do the invocation.
Meanwhile, the head of People for the American Way -- a group founded by Norman Lear -- said she was “profoundly disappointed” that Warren was asked to play a key role in the inauguration.
“I’m sure that Warren’s supporters will portray his selection as an appeal to unity by a president who is committed to reaching across traditional divides,” said Kathryn Kolbert.
“Others may explain it as a response to Warren inviting then-Sen. Obama to speak on AIDS and candidate Obama to appear at a forum, both at his church.
“But the sad truth is that this decision further elevates someone who has in recent weeks actively promoted legalized discrimination and denigrated the lives and relationships of millions of Americans.”