Movie Review: "Chely Wright: Wish Me Away"

(Photo: Courtesy First Run Features)

Movie Review: "Chely Wright: Wish Me Away"

Summary: A documentary on country superstar Chely Wright, who came out as a lesbian in 2010 — rocking the conservative world of country.

Published June 1, 2012

Summary: A documentary on country superstar Chely Wright , who came out as a lesbian in 2010 — rocking the conservative world of country.

Review : We have yet to see an openly gay artist in hip hop and R&B, but in a genre like country music, which is probably thought of to be one of the most anti-gay, Chely Wright caused a media firestorm by coming out as a lesbian.  She was known for hits like "Shut Up and Drive" and "Single White Female" and well respected in the music industry. After years of hiding and paranoia, Wright came out of the closest. In a time where African-Americans are labeled as the most homophobic, Wright's doc proves that homophobia transcends all groups.  And Chely Wright should only be praised for her bravery.

The doc is part video diary and part polished film with Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Kopf as directors. Documenting her time before she came out as a lesbian, the audience witnesses the tragic effects of living an inauthentic life. Wright is stressed, fearful and, at times, looked clinically depressed. Wright isn't the stereotypical, bold and proud gay woman who doesn't care what anyone thinks.  In the film, she constantly cried that she wanted to be accepted. She looked like she took a bullet each time one of her friends, family and PR team drilled in her, "Not everyone is going to accept you!" Even her accepting pastor asked, "Are you ready to be rejected?" Is telling her truth worth all of the backlash? There are closeted artists in every genre of music who would never do what Wright did.

Birleffi and Kopf shined at showing the vulnerable side of Wright, who finds strength at the film's finish. But this isn't a happy ending where everything ends with a coming out party. While Wright was grateful for her truth, she was rejected by her country roots — and even her mother.  For the country world to reject her is unfathomable, and I am no expert on country, but Wright's vocal chops and songwriting skills, which we hear throughout the film, are excellent — think of her as the Mary J. Blige of country.  Nonetheless, the truth is sobering. This is reality, not an after school special.

Wish Me Away is hard to watch at times. The rants of ignorance she endured from her religious, small town are haunting. But the zinger is when she snaps on her book editor, who has no problem with her being gay, but chops Wright up for wearing a bikini in a photo-shoot years ago, insinuating that she was faking it. As a "hardcore feminist," her book editor says she would never do that. In the realest moment of the First Run Features film, Wright rants, "For her to say I was playing straight — what does she want me to do? Put on khaki pants and a button down? F--k you, Vicki! You don't know! You grew up in Manhattan and Martha's Vineyard.  You don't know me." Even with those who "accept" you, you might still experience judgment.

Wish Me Away is not just another doc on coming out; it's a unique story from a brave woman whose truth was more important than fame and glamour.

Wish Me Away is playing in select cities now.

Written by Clay Cane


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