The 15th annual Oscar Wilde Awards are around the corner and with honorees Norman Lear, Tig Notaro and Jenn Murray, the event promises to showcase the best of the U.S. and Ireland’s creative talents. Though unlike other black-tie events, the ceremony functions as a sort of “homecoming” for everyone attending — Irish and otherwise.
“It’s more like a house party, if you have a pretty big house,” says Trina Vargo, founder and president of the U.S.-Ireland Alliance. “It’s always nice to have a mix of people who are Irish, of Irish ancestry or someone we can make ‘honorary’ Irish. I once heard someone joke that there are two kinds of people: those who are Irish, and those who lack imagination. I like to believe that everyone at the Oscar Wilde Awards party has the great imagination that comes with great creativity — so everyone’s Irish for the night!”
The Oscar Wilde Awards will take place Feb. 6 at J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot in Santa Monica. Abrams will emcee the event, sponsored by Samsung and Screen Ireland.
Lear will be recognized as one of those “honorary Irishman” for his contributions to the entertainment industry in his 70-year career.
The five-time Emmy winner began writing for television in the 1950s and later became the producer of several notable series such as “One Day at a Time,” “Maude,” “Sanford and Son,” “The Jeffersons,” “Good Times” and “All in the Family.”
The latter program, which followed the fictional 1970s blue-collar Bunker family, featured main character Archie Bunker, a World War II veteran and bigot. In Lear’s autobiography, he acknowledged receiving suggestions from many to make the character an Irish Catholic; but, he decided against the idea saying he refused to assign the bigoted behavior to any single ethnicity or religion. The move was something that stood out to Vargo, especially when looking for honorees this year.
“Most groups, ethnic and otherwise, usually include a mix of people, some are fantastic — decent, kind, generous, inclusive — and others who aren’t so admirable,” she says. “It’s very easy to stereotype but that’s often lazy, overly simplistic and can be dangerous. The fact that Norman Lear recognized that in 1971, and made that choice about Archie, was probably more significant than even realized at the time.”
The same progressive sentiments can be felt in fellow honorees Notaro and Murray’s recognition as well. The former is a trailblazing comedian, who was born in Mississippi with Irish roots. Vargo boasts that the U.S.-Ireland Alliance is “all about inclusivity and shedding stereotypes.” Notaro and her wife/writing partner, Stephanie Allynne, sold their screenplay “First Ladies” to Netflix in 2018. The project sets Notaro as the first lady and Jennifer Aniston as the nation’s first female president. Northern Ireland performer Murray’s talents were recently seen in “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.”
“In terms of the bigger picture of our U.S.-Ireland Alliance, we’ve just always been about having a bigger tent. What was seen to be ‘Irish America’ had a history, a reputation, of seeking to exclude — if you weren’t male, white, Catholic and straight, you weren’t really welcomed in many Irish-American organizations. It’s fine to be all those things, but not to the exclusion of others,” Vargo says of the ceremony’s inclusiveness. “Demographics in this country are changing, Ireland has changed as well; we need to reflect the contemporary realities if there is to be a future for an historic relationship.”
The annual ceremony will include a live performance. British band The Rua is scheduled to take the stage this year.