remembering robin williams: the man who challenged our perceptions of feminism, fatherhood and gay rights
As you are most likely aware by now, this week the world lost Robin Williams, the great comedian and activist, to apparent suicide. Williams was 63 years old and was found dead by his personal assistant in his California home on Monday. News of his death has launched a stream of tweets, posts, and story swapping from numerous fans of Williams and of his memorable roles in various films such as Aladdin, The Dead Poets Society, and Mrs. Doubtfire. In unpacking the large amount of news related to this sudden loss, one can see that there has been a reported spike in the number of calls to suicide hotlines in the States, and mental health organisations here in Oz have reacted by encouraging us to reach out to those in need of help with depression. Also, there’s been a huge backlash on social media against Williams’ daughter, Zelda Williams. So bad, in fact, that she is reportedly leaving social media for good because she is so frustrated by Internet trolls being cruel to her. Most shocking of all is the Westboro Baptist Church’s reaction to Williams’ death – they have backlashed against his views on sexuality, marriage, and gay and lesbian rights by starting the cruel hash tag #MustPicketFuneral.
I just can’t even. How in the world does this organisation consider itself Holy at all? I hope and pray that picketers do not show up at his funeral and that they stay well away from a grieving family and a grieving world that has lost one of the most iconic minds of its generation.
But in times like these, it’s best to ignore the naysayers and the haters. This really is a time for grieving and for remembering this great man. I came across a wonderful article that does just that.
The article, written by an openly gender non-conforming writer, Derrick Clifton, gives us four main reasons why Williams’ character in the 1993 film Mrs. Doubtfire influenced our preconceptions about fatherhood, feminism, and gay rights. According to Clifton, Williams’ portrayal of a father who dresses in drag in order to see his children ‘affirmed gay relationships,’ ‘showed us that fatherhood is a feminist issue,’ ‘challenged street harassment and violence against women and the elderly,’ and ‘taught everyone that no matter what your family looks like, it’s the love that matters at the end of the day.’
The character of Mrs Doubtfire did these things by taking us ‘inside the mind of a man who desperately wanted to be a strong father for his children’ and who was willing to dress as a woman in order to ‘see his children and learn how his wife effortlessly balanced both career and motherhood.’ In this way, Williams’ character showed the glamorous Hollywood world and us that it’s possible for a heterosexual man to ‘take his lead from women and queer people.’
Referring to his role as a gay cabaret owner in the film The Birdcage, and in support of LGBT rights, Williams said, ‘If I can use my celebrity status to draw people into a movie theater to see me perform as an admirable gay man and thereby make them a little more positive about gay people, why wouldn’t I do it?’
Amen to that, Mr. Williams. Amen.
Goodbye, Genie, hope you are happy up there. We will never forget how you stood up for all of us and helped make change happen. Sadly, much work is yet to be done, but we won’t let that stop us from losing hope.
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