Coinciding with OKC Pride activities, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art on Thursday screens Wish Me Away, a documentary on country music superstar Chely Wright’s decision to come out as gay — arguably the first in her genre to do so.
I’m no admirer of her music, I completely, wholeheartedly respect her
for this act of bravery. Known for hit singles as “Jezebel” and “Single
White Female,” Wright built a winning career in a field that embraces
conservative politics with bear hugs. To announce she’s a lesbian is to
play Russian roulette with her livelihood, but as she tells the camera,
living a lifetime of dishonesty “about killed me.”
“I’ve never denied God and I am about family and I am
about the freedoms of my country, and I’m gay,” says Wright, as
religious as she is beautiful, but Nashville’s culture is such that
homosexuality negates those other beliefs. Thus, we see her cry in
anguish and wrestle with doubt as the film traces the monthlong lead-up
to her very public outing to Meredith Vieira on NBC’s Today.
To tell every step of Wright’s story from a sad childhood in small-town Kansas to the top of the Billboard charts,
feature-debuting directors Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Kopf utilize
music video clips, concert footage and interviews with family members,
friends, radio DJs, music historians, managers and label execs.
past talk-show interview finds Dick Clark asking Wright about her love
life, and she awkwardly stumbles around a non-answer. Back in the now,
more uncomfortable is the resistance she hits after telling those close
to her about her sexuality, from her military-minded brother-in-law to
her New York book editor.
It’s a compelling journey to witness, especially
since Wright intended to let the secret die with her, and it’s nearly
impossible not to empathize on some level. While I love women as much as
Wright does, I have had the most extreme displeasure in feeling like an
outcast. It’s tough to live as yourself when the world around you
bullies you for not being Just Like Them.
Look past Wish Me Away’s occasionally
clumsy edges, like an iMovie title treatment, and support it for
challenging stereotypes. It’s not likely to change anyone’s mindset …
but wouldn’t it be wonderful if it did?