On Election Day 2008, I found myself on Divisadero Street in the middle of a spontaneous mob scene celebrating Obama's victory. Sloppy grins poured out of every doorway and hung out of every window. The air was thick with chants of "Yes, We Can!" and "U.S.A.," the smack of high fives, the slurp of shared whiskey, and the shouts of girls on boys' shoulders: an unbridled patriotism I had never seen from my generation. But there was something keeping me from giving myself over completely to the celebration: Proposition 8. The final results weren't in, but the outlook was getting bleaker by the minute. I felt sick and went back home to the aftermath of the victory party I had just thrown, feeling separate. That feels like forever ago, but the battle over marriage equality in California still rages on in the courts with Perry v. Brown, a federal constitutional challenge to overturn Prop 8, which has successfully advanced through Federal District Court and the Ninth Circuit of Appeals. Not that you would necessarily know that. All footage of the trial has been kept from the public, due to the persistent efforts of the defendants. Until now, that is.
In a clever maneuver, Dustin Lance Black, the Academy Award winning screenwriter of Milk, and acclaimed actor and director Rob Reiner decided to put on a one-off play titled 8, to be streamed live on YouTube, that would showcase pivotal moments from the trial with the help of Hollywood's finest. The all-star cast is an embarrassment of riches: Brad Pitt as Judge Walker, George Clooney as David Boies, Martin Sheen as Theodore B. Olson, Jamie Lee Curtis as one of the plaintiffs, and on and on and on. Now, you might think that rehashing some court case might be a snoozefest, but 8 is emotional, riveting, at times hysterical, and most importantly enlightening. Here are just a few reasons why 8 is worth a watch:
- President Bartlet. Uh, I mean Martin Sheen. Yes, I realize that he only played a president on television and never actually survived that assassination attempt or had to make those tough calls to keep us from the brink of war, but I can't help but get super emo whenever I see him. The man has serious sway with me. When he speaks, I listen like it's a legitimate Presidential address, and that's the draw he has in this play, specifically in a rousing speech he gives at the very end (watch below). The audience and most of the cast burst into applause after he's through, partly because of the truth expressed in Ted Olson's closing argument, but also because of Sheen's inspired performance. Be right back, must find Bartlet for President bumper sticker for the car I don't have.
- Chris Colfer is known as the resident gay on Glee. An unknown before that show, he has come to represent gay adolescents dealing with bullying and adversity in high school. 8 finds him playing a young man whose family forced him into a program run by NARTH (National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality), an organization that tries to cure homosexuality. His performance is beyond moving and clearly informed by personal struggles Colfer faced growing up in Clovis, a rural conservative town in California. I dare you not to cry. And, just in case you're wondering if the reparative therapy worked on that young man, here's his answer: "Nope, just as gay as when I started."
- It's no surprise George Takei is involved, as he seems to be everywhere these days, even in Donald Trump's board room. In 8, he plays one of the opposition's witnesses. When asked about where he heard that countries that legalized same sex marriage saw alarming moral decline, Takei almost steals the entire show with a single line: "It's in the internet."
- Have you heard of Maggie Gallagher, the figure head of NOM (National Organization for Marriage)? Surely, you've seen her talking over people on some news show about the sanctity of marriage, "civl wrongs," and how we must "treat different things differently." In a brilliant casting move, Jane Lynch (who couldn't look any less like Gallagher) brings this woman's intense convictions to the stage to hilarious ends. Is there anything Jane Lynch can't do? (No.)
- However, the best moment of the play, by far, involves George Clooney cross-examining John C. Reilly's character. One time, I saw JCR step out of a cab in the Tenderloin and, while my friend was freaking out, I couldn't have been more apathetic. After watching this scene in which Reilly's flustered character fumbles through a rambling answer to a "yes, no, or I don't know" question, I want to hop into a Delorean and go back in time to that precise moment and slap myself.
At the close of the production, David Boies said that the play was a form of poetic justice. If the opposition hadn't fought so diligently to keep the trial footage under wraps, the videos would have been aired on C-SPAN and only seen by that channel's meager audience. Instead, with the star power of all these celebrities and the omnipresence of YouTube as a viewing medium, what happened during this trial will now be seen by millions around the world. Boies went on to have the final word of the night: "Now, you have all seen that we did put fear and prejudice on trial and fear and prejudice lost." However optimistic those words are, the battle for marriage equality in California continues at a snail's pace all the way up to the country's highest court. But, along with poll numbers drastically tipping in favor of marriage equality and more and more states legalizing same sex marriage, it's reassuring that we're already looking back on this civil rights struggle and finding it possible to laugh.
Watch 8 in its entirety: