If you’ve ever watched one of those countless entertainment awards shows, you can’t help but notice the celebrity audience. Every time a winner is announced, the camera zooms in and you can see the reactions from those around the recipient. And as the winner approaches the stage, there is the wide angle view from the rear stage showing all the celebs in the front row.
I don’t know about you, but it seems that no matter who wins, those in the front rows always have a “sizing up” look on their face -- you know, giving the winner that “once over,” up-and-down stare. Maybe they’re admiring the latest fashion design of the winner’s gown or simply the actor’s or actress’ achievement. But most of the time it comes across as a very judgmental glare. (I recognize that last comment is, in itself, judgmental!).
As Sarah Paulson approached the stage at this year’s Emmy Awards, I wonder what the front row was thinking. Paulson starred in the FX mini-series The People vs. O.J. Simpson and received the nod for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or a Movie for her portrayal of prosecuting attorney Marcia Clark. Clark, you may recall, played a prominent and controversial role in the 1994 murder trial of Simpson and became a highly criticized public figure, not only during the proceedings but later as a reality television personality.
Well, Ms. Paulson’s acceptance speech was not your ordinary litany of “thank-you’s,” and neither is she the stereotypical Hollywood star. Paulson related how, when playing a real person’s character, the actor must truly get to know that individual. “I was one of those women who didn’t like Marcia Clark,” she said. “And that was based on believing what I was told by the media — that she was this total monster and a bulldog and so aggressive. It was really transformational to realize, I had it all wrong. Most people did.”
From her heart, Sarah Paulson shared that as she got into the character, she began to understand and feel the pain and emotional scars Clark had endured more than 20 years earlier. "The more I learned about the real Marcia Clark, the more I had to recognize that I, along with the rest of the world, had been superficial and careless in my judgment." Turning to Clark whom she invited to the ceremony, Paulson ended her speech saying, "I'm glad to be able to stand here today in front of everyone and tell you ‘I'm sorry’."
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus addresses the crowds following him. “Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.” (Mt 7:1-2). Our Lord instructs that we ought to remove the beam from our own eye first before arrogantly casting aspersions on another, forgetful of our own faults and shortcomings.
I wonder what kind of look the front row would have given Sarah Paulson if they knew what she would say on stage! Indeed, she was a winner on that Emmy night. Though her first Emmy trophy and the moment in the spotlight would be fleeting, Paulson’s ability to acknowledge her own shortsightedness and her compassionate words touched many hearts in addition to Marcia Clark’s and no doubt will resonate with many for a long time.