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Michael Musto

The Real-Life Steven Goldstein Has a Problem With Freeheld

The Real-Life Steven Goldstein Has a Problem With Freeheld

Steven Goldstein
Photo Courtesy of Lionsgate

Steve Carell plays the civil rights leader in the film starring Ellen Page and Julianne Moore.

Pictured at left: Steve Carell in 'Freeheld' | right: Steven Goldstein

In my last column, I gave Freeheld a good review, appreciating the story of terminally ill New Jersey cop Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) fighting for the right to give her estate to her girlfriend, Stacie Andree (Ellen Page). I wrote that I enjoyed Steve Carell as civil rights leader Steven Goldstein (whom I mistakenly called Steve) and described the character as "a campy, media savvy queen hilariously played by Steve Carell, who squeals, 'I'm a big, loud, gay Jew!' "

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Well, the real Steven Goldstein, who's an associate professor at Rutgers Law School, has contacted me to clarify his thoughts on his representation in the film (and my comments on it). Said he:

"I think Freeheld is an extraordinary movie. I'm its biggest fan, but you have to remember what Hollywood does is take some truths and put them on a caricaturish acid trip. So for example, a good chunk of what Steve Carell says in the movie is almost verbatim what I said at the time, and that's quite a statement. And there are other lines in the movie that are simply preposterous -- where I thought, I would never say that in a thousand years. I'd say quite the opposite. For example, I'd never use the word 'homosexual' to describe myself. I don't even say 'gay,' I say 'LGBT' in real life.

"In real life, there wasn't a conflict between Dane (Laurel's cop partner, played by Michael Shannon) and myself. I instantly appreciated the need for our civil rights movement in Jersey to go beyond its base. So if a straight cop wanted to be in the lead, I'd say, 'Hey, great.' There was no catfight as the movie portrays, where the LGBT leader is somehow pissed.

"Also, there was a scene where I'm on the floor and begged the freeholders (the officials deciding the lesbian cop's case). It did happen, but Dane never picked me up and said, 'You're making this a circus.' He wasn't anywhere near me!

"What I love about the movie is it personalizes the fight for equality. I'm hardly the opposite of a loud, gay Jewish guy either. I'm a pretty self-aware person. It's not like I'm a quiet Buddhist monk. You can't say that either. But of course, like other LGBT people, I have a sense of camp, and I'm ready with the soundbites, but what this movie does is that's what the character exclusively focuses on. I get it--the character is a catalyst, a supporting role. You don't see the behind the scenes negotiation. The movie didn't show the inside game. But if the movie's going to further the understanding of how we won equality, I'm happy. I've seen it six times, with friends and family. There are moments where they say, 'Steven, that's you' and moments where they say, 'I don't know who that is.'

"There are lines I absolutely said. I did say: 'Laurel, I'll marry you, but I wouldn't know what to do with your vagina.' But all those 'sweeties' and 'sweethearts!' My friends winced because they never heard me say that -- because I didn't. I thought, If that guy says 'sweetie' or 'sweetheart' one more time, I'm going to scream. If it comes out of my mouth, it's not this incessant thing! I might say an occasional 'honey,' but 'sweetie' is more my parents' generation -- it sounds like the Rat Pack. I'm a serious political strategist with an LGBT sense of humor. I'm writing a book on the portrayal of LGBT people in the media, ironically. What Hollywood does is it neither tells the complete truth or completely lies.

"[Screenwriter] Ron [Nyswaner] talked to me for a full day for research. I actually love the script because I'm an activist. I get it. I'm not one of those people who saw Selma and couldn't enjoy it even though LBJ was made out to be the villain."

OK, but did Goldstein really scream: "You have the power!" at the Freeholders, as Carell is seen doing in the film?

"Absolutely correct. But our crowds were bigger than in the movie. I'm gonna fill a room. But I never said [one of Carell's lines], 'We'll have gay grandmothers and gay rabbis. Gay this, gay that. We'll throw a Gay Pride parade.' In fact, my thinking was completely the opposite. Ocean County is deeply conservative. If you think I was ever gonna organize a Gay Pride parade in Ocean County in 2005, you're crazy. There was not this gay separatist stuff.

"I'm looking forward to the day where I'm not just Jack from Will & Grace with a yarmulke or Jm. J Bullock from Too Close For Comfort. LGBTs are complex people. I can have a sense of humor. That doesn't mean that's who I am. And I love the movie. There are plenty of moments where Steve Carell is me." Pause. "And plenty where I wouldn't have a clue as to who he's playing."

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Michael Musto