My husband is not big on movie musicals, but after Anne Hathaway was interviewed on The Daily Show, he and I both managed to see the Les Miserables this winter. Indeed, I almost felt a spiritual urgency about seeing the movie. And Anne Hathaway’s performance is what I remember most about it.
I do not want what I am about to write to be misinterpreted. Anne Hathaway does not know what it is like to stand for hours in line at a clinic in Haiti with a sick baby, only to be turned away because she does not have money or the appropriate papers. She does not know what it is like to have a family member disappear in Colombia, or to receive an anonymous letter saying that if she does not leave the area immediately, she will end up dead and floating in the river. She does not know what it is like to have her home demolished because an Israeli settlement wants her family’s land for expansion. She does not know what it is like to face the ongoing loss of land and violation of treaty rights that Indigenous people are constantly facing in North America. She does not know what it is like to live with the casual racism that people of color do day after exhausting day in the United States.
And yet, when I watched her performance, it touched the place the feelings come from when I have witnessed the above struggles of marginalized people as part of my human rights work. Watching her face, I saw the faces of so many other people who have suffered enormous losses. Victor Hugo never experienced the poverty he wrote about so eloquently, and Picasso was not in the Basque village of Guernica when it was bombed by German and Italian warplanes in 1937, but through their art, they brought poverty, injustice, and war to the attention of millions, and people used that art for social change. What Anne Hathaway accomplished in Les Miserables was profound art in that tradition.
So my husband and I were pleased when she acknowledged all the Fantines of the world at the Oscars ceremony, and were shocked at the negative publicity she received afterward. I sent her the letter below care of her management agency in March after we were aware of the publicity (we don’t really follow celebrity culture). This weekend, when I was in Washington DC for my stepdaughter’s graduation, I was riffling through a recent Cosmopolitan in her dorm room as she prepared to move out and saw yet another article on why Anne Hathaway was unlikeable. So, since for some reason, celebrity culture still finds this topic current, I am going to repost the letter here:
Regarding your comment: “Here’s hoping that sometime in the not-too-distant future, the misfortunes of Fantine will only be found in stories—and not in real life.”
March 15, 2013
Dear Ms. Hathaway,
I am not the sort of person who normally writes celebrities. I work for a human rights organization called Christian Peacemaker Teams (cpt.org) and have served on assignments in Haiti, Chiapas, Colombia, Palestine and Israel, Democratic Republic of Congo and with North American Indigenous communities. I have enclosed a newsletter so you will know the sort of thing that normally occupies my time. Like millions of people I was moved by your performance in Les Miserables (My brother—a SAG member—wrote in his January 25 Facebook status: “exercised his sacred right to vote this morning, knowing that the whole of western civilization depends on Anne Hathaway being recognized for her rendition of ‘I Dreamed a Dream.’”) My husband and I watched the Oscar broadcast this year primarily because we had acquaintances who made the documentary, “5 Broken Cameras,” and because of you.
We so appreciated that you gave a nod to all the real-life Fantines in your acceptance speech. I have worked with people who have had most of their choices stripped away and people who have given up everything, including their dignity, for the sake of their children. You captured their despair and conviction in a profound way when you sang, “I dreamed a dream.”
But I would not have written this letter if it hadn’t been for the media in the past weeks obsessing over the darts in your dress and in general everything except your mention of the real Fantines of the world. In fact, the only thing I found about you acknowledging their suffering was a snarky “Anne Hathaway thinks Fantine was real.”
So that’s why I decided to write. Just so you know that my husband and I noticed, and appreciated it. I’m sure Victor Hugo would have too.
Blessings and peace,