Country star's film chronicles decision to come out
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
Chely Wright speaks to the audience after a screening of her film, "Wish Me Away,” at the Uptown Theatre in Port Townsend on Friday.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — At the 13th annual Port Townsend Film Festival, Chely Wright talked about her long, hard journey to be herself in public.

Wright, 41, was promoting a documentary, “Wish Me Away,” released in 2011, tracing her evolution from country star, with albums selling in the millions, to lesbian activist.

The movie was screened before a full house at the 340-seat Uptown Theater on Friday, followed by an onstage interview of Wright by local author Rebecca Redshaw.

“Wish Me Away,” a three-year collaboration with filmmakers Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Kopf, tells of Wright's coming out, chronicling her thoughts and fears before, during and after her stunning announcement in May 2010, an act considered to be a first in the world of country music.

The announcement that she is gay coincided with the release of her seventh studio album, “Lifting Off the Ground,” and her memoir, Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer.

Wright was named top new female vocalist by the Academy of Country Music in 1995.

Her hits included the Top 40 country single, 1997's “Shut Up and Drive” followed in two years by the No. 1 “Single White Female.”

Her revelation affected her career. She told the Los Angeles Times in June that her record sales fell to around one-third of their previous level and invitations to major country music events dried up.

On Friday, she said it was worth it to be her true self.

“My dream now is to always be able to put my head on my pillow every night and know that I did a really good job at being a human,” Wright said. “I'm happy to be able to live authentically, and I will continue to do that.”

“I want to continue to make a living using my imagination — music, books or screenplays,” she added. “Nothing is off the table.”

One scene in “Wish Me Away” shows Wright being coached by a publicist, anticipating accusations that the announcement is a career move.

They try the statement several ways, finessing the idea that no country singer would think that declaring homosexuality would be a positive thing in the audience's eyes.

A recurring sequence is Wright speaking into a camera with no makeup and in tears, talking about the stress she is under and wondering “if I am ever going to have the courage to have anyone see this tape.”

It is interspersed with humor, including interviews with Wright's sister and an anecdote from Wright's childhood, when she asked her mother why Billie Jean King dressed like a man.

“She told me it was because [King] was gay,” said Wright, who had already decided she wanted to be a country star. “And I thought, if I'm gonna look like that when I grow up, I'm screwed.”

Since coming out, Wright has become a spokesperson for gay and lesbian issues.

Earlier Friday, she used the lessons of the movie to talk about bullying and how to deal with being different with Jefferson Community School students.

Wright said that only a few country artists have shown support for her; most have stayed silent.

During the portion of “Wish Me Away” in which past clips were shown, the face of a person introducing Wright was blurred because she hadn't allowed her image to be used in the film. Wright said that many people in country music are themselves progressive but fear that fans might be close-minded and therefore refuse to “package” an artist who is openly gay.

Though Wright said she has gained a new audience with her activism, the experience has been bittersweet.

“People might like me on my Facebook page because they want to support what I've done socially but that doesn't translate into them buying a record,” she said.

Prior to the screening Wright said that her life has reached a “new normal.”

“The holidays are different now that I'm out, family things are different now that I'm out, but life moves on, and there is now an openly gay artist in country music.

“There will be another major country artist who comes out,” she predicted. “But I love that it's off the table that there will never have to be another first.”



Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: September 23. 2012 6:15PM
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