We think we know Robert De Niro. We know him as Travis Bickle or Vito Corleone or any number of other gangsters or bad guys, as a film hero with a tough exterior. Therefore, for many it might come as something of a surprise that GLAAD, the world’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender media advocacy organization, honored the Academy Award-winning actor at the twenty-seventh Annual GLAAD Media Awards at the Waldorf Astoria New York.
The GLAAD Media Awards recognize and honor media for their fair, accurate, and inclusive representations of the GLBT community and the issues that affect their lives. The GLAAD Media Awards also fund GLAAD’s work to amplify stories from the GLBT community and issues that build support for equality and acceptance.
De Niro received GLAAD’s Excellence in Media Award, which is presented to media professionals who have made a significant difference in promoting equality and acceptance. Previous Excellence in Media Award honorees include Kelly Ripa, Russell Simmons, Tyra Banks, Judy Shepard, Julianne Moore, Glenn Close, Barbara Walters, Bob and Harvey Weinstein, Diane Sawyer, and Vanessa Redgrave.
Robert De Niro (1943) is a two-time Academy Award-winning actor and a longtime ally to the GLBT community. Most recently, he shared with audiences the story of his gay father in “Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro, Sr.,” a 2014 HBO documentary directed by Perri Peltz and Geeta Gandbhir. In it, De Niro movingly recounted his father’s struggle with self-acceptance, not living openly as a gay man until the latter part of his life.
To people who “know” the tough guy it might be shocking to see De Niro shake and sob as he talks about his late father and reads from his father’s diaries. He shares intimate stories of his father’s despair about his sexual orientation and his stagnant artistic reputation. At one point, as De Niro was ascending to Hollywood’s top tier, he made a last-ditch effort to rescue his father, who was sick in Paris, where he’d been living as a starving artist. In an interview with Out magazine in 2014 Robert De Niro said about the project: “It was my responsibility to make a documentary about him. I was always planning on doing it, but never did. Then Jane Rosenthal, my partner at Tribeca, said, ‘We should start doing that now.’ I had footage from a guy who used to follow my father around in the ’70s. We started with that.”
But “Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro, Sr.” is not the only reason De Niro was honored. In addition to his outspoken advocacy in support of marriage equality, he has brought GLBT storylines to broader audiences. In 2002, he co-founded the Tribeca Film Festival, which has made GLBT inclusion a hallmark of its annual film line-up. He produced and starred in the 1999 film “Flawless,” which told the story of a man and his friendship with a transgender woman. In 2007, De Niro portrayed Captain Shakespeare in “Stardust,” a romantic fantasy adventure movie.
Captain Shakespeare is the captain of a sky vessel, and one day, he catches Tristan Thorne and Yvaine in his nets. To keep up his reputation, Shakespeare acts as a violent interrogator. However, unbeknownst to his crew, he is acting as host to the two hitchhikers. The Captain reveals to them that he is, in fact, a cross-dresser who abhors violence. At a certain moment the captain’s nemesis discovers him, dressed in a pink dress and feather boa, twirling around his cabin. Before leaving his vessel, the crew reveals to their captain that they “always knew you were a whoopsie.” “Stardust” received a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Film – Wide Release.
De Niro will next be seen in the boxing film “Hands of Stone.” He is currently filming “The Comedian” with director Taylor Hackford, and is in post-production for “Wizard of Lies,” in which he is starring and is executive producer.
“Through his work honoring the memory of his openly gay father, Robert De Niro has not only sent a message of acceptance to GLBT people, but also educated audiences of the harms of anti-GLBT prejudice and discrimination,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “He is a tireless advocate who has helped bring to the world GLBT storylines that spark dialogue, build support, and encourage understanding.”