In a night of Oscar speeches that were both personal and political, Graham Moore’s Best Adapted Screenplay acceptance was one of the most emotional and blurty—in other words, the kind that is remembered longest. After awkwardly thanking the Academy and Oprah, who announced his win, and showering “love and kisses” on the cast and crew of The Imitation Game, Moore pivoted to a hard-to-parse observation about the film’s subject, mathematician Alan Turing. Turing, Moore said, “never got to stand on a stage like this and look out at all of these disconcertingly attractive faces, and I do, and that’s the most unfair thing, I think, I’ve ever heard.” Sorry, why would a mathematician be at the Oscars? Eh, given the excitement Moore was clearly feeling, we can allow for a certain amount of imprecision. That said, the rest of his speech was more problematic.
Moore went on to share with the millions of telecast viewers that at the age of 16, he tried to kill himself “because I felt weird, and I felt different, and I felt that I did not belong. And now I’m standing here, and I would like this moment to be for that kid out there who feels she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. … Stay different, and then when it’s your turn, and you’re standing on this stage, please pass the message to the next person that comes along.”
I wish that Moore had drawn a clearer line between his comments about Turing—a man who was persecuted and prosecuted for his homosexuality—and his “it gets better” message to teens who are merely weird and different. For one thing, overemphasizing the connection between queer teens and suicide can be dangerous. But it’s also important to note that being gay simply isn’t the same as being a “geek.” Moore may see them as comparable (and, though he has identified himself as straight, his affect may have opened him up to homophobic bullying), but the truth of the matter is that the social force behind anti-gay prejudice is far stronger and more pernicious than the animus against social outcasts. Moore’s heart was surely in the right place, but I wish he hadn’t conflated these identities.