What becomes a gay icon most?
It used to be you had to be a Cher or a Madonna to carry that mantle, much like “diva” and “legend,” and like those now-clichéd terms, “icon” has been worn down to a nub so that it means little if anything at all. So in an effort to reclaim our superlatives, it’s important to bestow them only on those truly deserving. Which takes me back to my original question: what becomes a gay icon most?
When it comes to the gays, we take our icons seriously. Perhaps, too seriously. Whereas stan culture has an innate negative connotation, true iconology means accepting a person’s flaws, recognizing their very humanity, while celebrating what makes them iconic. And with gay icons, it’s more than just being fabulous, but also about loving and supporting the LGBTQ community.
Enter Anne Hathaway. The Oscar-winning actress will be presented with the HRC National Equality Award at the Human Rights Campaign’s 22nd annual National Dinner, which will also feature speeches and appearances by former VP Joe Biden, former Attorney General Eric Holder, and future governor of Georgia (fingers crossed) Stacey Abrams.
Aside from having a gay brother, Hathaway has some serious bona fides with the queer community. In 2012, she sold her wedding photos to benefit organizations fighting for marriage equality; in 2016, she joined a petition led by the HRC to protest an anti-LGBTQ discrimination bill in Georgia; and in 2008 she made this speech to HRC members and supporters:
“I don’t consider myself just an ally to the LGBT community, I consider myself your family. And so, I’m doing what we should all do with our families—I’m loving you, I support you, I completely accept you as you are, as I hope you do me, and if anyone ever tries to hurt you, I’m going to give them hell.”
While Hathaway may have always loved and supported us, the opposite hasn’t always been true, lest we forget the rise of the Hathahaters, following her nakedly ambitious campaign for the Oscar she deserved anyway for Les Misérables. That Sally Field-level (also a gay icon) of desperation to be liked, really liked, only further endeared her to me and cemented what I’ve thought all along: Anne Hathaway is a goddamn gay icon.
From the moment she appeared as a fresh-faced ingenue in The Princess Diaries with no less than Julie Fucking Andrews to her star turn in Brokeback Mountain to her frequent red carpet slayage and trimuphant comeback this year in Ocean’s 8, Hathaway has earned the title. Let’s look closer at the makings of this gay icon.
The Hathaway Diaries
Anne Hathaway first came to our collective attention as Mia Thermopolis in 2001’s The Princess Diaries, her film debut at the tender age of 18. With eyebrows reminiscent of a young Audrey Hepburn, who also made her film debut playing a reluctant princess (Roman Holiday), Hathaway’s performance as a different kind of Disney princess signaled the arrival of a new star. And with the 2004 sequel, and a planned third entry, she clearly has no problem being reminded from whence she came. Besides, what’s more iconically gay than a glamorous makeover? A glamorous makeover featuring Julie Andrews, that’s what.
Hathaway graduated to adult roles with the classic gay cowboy drama Brokeback Mountain, for which every major member of the cast—Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Michelle Williams, all deserving—was nominated for an Oscar except her. Which was just a shame. Because this scene alone, as well as her wig, are award-worthy.
The Hathaway Wears Prada
Hathaway would continue to do great dramatic work (Rachel Getting Married, anyone?—for which she received her first Best Actress Oscar nom) but she got sidetracked by some romantic comedies, the best being The Devil Wears Prada—the worst being Bride Wars, which all but ended Kate Hudson’s film career. Though Meryl Streep stole the show in The Devil, as Meryl Streep is wont to do, Hathaway anchored the film and also gave us yet another iconic makeover sequence, perhaps the best in recent cinematic history.
It’s Called Fashion
NBC / Getty
Speaking of fashion, Hathaway also started coming into her own sartorially around Devil, gracing the red carpet in one knockout gown after the other. She unarguably reached her fashion apex at the 2011 Golden Globes, for which she clearly thought, You know what, I feel like snatching some wigs. Here’s a sequined, bold-shouldered Armani Privé number and guess what—
NBC / Getty
It’s backless. You’re all welcome.
Gabriel Bouys / Getty
At the 2011 Academy Awards, Anne Hathaway pulled double duty as host and…host, basically carrying an otherwise useless James Franco through the four-hour ceremony, and revealing quite a voice, and quite a le smoking, in a performance that further fanned rumors she would be portraying the ultimate gay icon, Judy Garland. Sadly, we’ve yet to see that happen. And I, personally, am still waiting.
Hathaway stepped into some gay-iconic kitten heels with her role as Catwoman in the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises—we’re talking Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, and most intimidatingly, Michelle Pfeiffer for god’s sake. Truly an impossible legacy to live up to, but Hathaway, being Hathaway, gave it her all and the film was better for it—though not quite as good as the gold standard of superhero films, the second installment, The Dark Knight, featuring Hathaway’s Brokeback co-star, the late Heath Ledger in a legendary and Oscar-winning performance as The Joker.
I Dreamed a Hathaway
I remember when I first saw the trailer for Les Misérables because as soon as Hathaway came on screen, weeping in a gamine haircut, I screamed “OSCAR!” Sure, she may have campaigned a bit too hard to win, but after being snubbed for Brokeback, can you blame her? And if you do, shut up, because she deserved it and the Oscars are notorious for getting it wrong, repeatedly.
I Came in on a Hathaway
In the midst of the Hathaway backlash, the actress reminded us that she can still laugh at herself, an essential quality for any gay icon, when she reunited with her Devil Wears Prada co-star Emily Blunt on Lip Sync Battle, giving a wrecking-balls-to-the-wall performance of Miley Cyrus’s ode to love and construction sites.
Hathaway—in a star-studded cast including Rihanna, Sandy Bullock, and Cate Blanchett—managed to run away with all of Ocean’s 8 by essentially playing an exaggerated version of herself: a spoiled, image-obsessed movie star. The result? She garnered some of the best reviews she’s received in years, the film was a hit, and she got a nice little comeback out of it. Because resilience is really the most revered trait for any gay icon. And she’s got it in spades. So with that, the defense rests: Anne Hathaway is a gay icon.