Did She or Didn't She?

By Christopher Lisotta

Originally published on Advocate.com December 19 2007 12:00 AM ET

Actress and
producer Jodie Foster was just making a thank-you speech,
right? Depends on who's doing the reporting.

On December 4 the
two-time Academy Award winner accepted the Sherry
Lansing Leadership Award at the annual Women in
Entertainment Power 100 breakfast in Beverly Hills.
Foster attending this kind of industry event is hardly
news outside Hollywood, but her acceptance speech garnered
global headlines when she thanked “my beautiful
Cydney,” apparently referring to Cydney
Bernard, the woman long assumed to be her partner.

Foster recognized
her agent, publicists, lawyer, and mother before
thanking Bernard, “who sticks with me through the
rotten and the bliss,” she said.

The film and
television website IMDB.com lists Bernard as a production
coordinator, manager, or supervisor on a half-dozen
films and television movies—including the 1993
feature Sommersby, which starred Foster. Both of
Foster’s children, Charles and Kit, have the middle
name Bernard.

Foster's December
4 comments set off a rash of media coverage, with
publications from South Africa to New Zealand reporting the
words, but with widely varying interpretations of what
they meant. The U.K.-based website Fametastic saw the
statement as a sign that Foster “may be set to
publicly confirm her relationship.” Other
publications went further, with The Philadelphia Daily News declaring on December
15 that Foster “has officially announced she's
gay.” The British tabloid Daily Mail
reported on December 12 that Foster “has
finally come out as a lesbian.” The Daily Mail
also ran a photo of Foster and Bernard taken at the
German premiere of her 2005 feature film Flightplan.

The coverage was
not just in print. Cabler CNN added a video clip to its
website on December 13 titled “Jodie Foster thanks
gay partner” where celebrity columnist Kiki
King said in an interview with one of the
network’s anchors “of course she’s been
with Cydney Bernard for over 14 years now, and she has
two sons, presumably with Cydney playing a sort of
parental role in that relationship, as well.”

Robert Thompson,
a professor at the Bleier Center for Television and
Popular Culture at Syracuse University, said the reaction
shows an evolution in the way media interprets
comments by individuals that merely indicate
sexuality.

“Once upon
a time a comment like that would have gotten absolutely no
remark, because so much of that stuff wasn’t being
reported,” Thompson said. “It was so
submerged. Now it’s gone in a completely different
direction. I suppose what it still continues to indicate is,
we are still obsessed by people’s sexuality,
and [by] naming and reading all the clues.

Despite
increasing acceptance of LGBT people in general society and
a growing number of entertainment personalities who
are living out lives, speculation over an A-lister
like Foster is invariably news, Thompson said.

“There is
still almost this parlor game trying to identify the
sexuality of celebrities and people we know that
doesn’t seem to have stopped,” he
explained.

It’s
usually predicated by a long season of speculation,”
Thompson said, “Rosie and Ellen being prime
examples.”

That long season
may have begun months ago. During an interview for the
August 2007 edition of More magazine, a
reporter broached the subject of the ring Foster wears on
her left-hand ring finger. When asked if she thought
“wearing a ring raises questions,”
Foster said, “I don't have any problems with anybody
reporting on my life. It's just that I'm not going to
bring my family into that.”

On the other
hand, Foster extended a hand to the LGBT family just two
days before her Women in Film acceptance speech. On December
2, the star appeared onstage at the annual Cracked
Xmas benefit for the Trevor Project, which funds a
round-the-clock suicide prevention hotline for LGBTQ
youth. Foster was there to give an award to the Foundation's
founders, James Lecesne, Peggy Rajski, and the late Randy
Stone, an out gay Hollywood executive with whom Foster
shared a long, close friendship.

Although she had
contributed financially to the Trevor Project and had
helped to finance Trevor, the Academy Award-winning
short about a gay teen who outgrows the idea of
suicide, Foster had stayed behind the scenes until
this year. The sustained standing ovation she received
onstage appeared momentarily to startle the actress, who
said she'd count the applause as a tribute to Stone.

But did that warm
response prompt Foster's December 4 acknowledgment of
her partner? Only Foster knows. The Trevor appearance and
the Sherry Lansing Award speech could be subtle
gestures, or simply random moments linked by
coincidence. Regardless, the reporting continues.
On December 14 gossip web site TMZ.com ran video footage of
Foster and Bernard leaving West Hollywood restaurant
Il Sole.

Even with the
media onslaught, Foster has so far not spoken further about
her relationship or sexuality. But she did make some
poignant comments on the red carpet before the
December 4 breakfast.

Asked by the
trade publication The Hollywood Reporter what
advice she would give to women aspiring to a position
in entertainment, Foster said, “The one lesson is to
try and be who you are, and not try and be somebody
else, because you’re never going to be very
good at being somebody else. And there is a lot of
temptation of that. If it isn’t true, then it
isn’t moving.”