As we approach the 94th Academy Awards ceremony this month, all eyes are on the best actress nominee Jessica Chastain, who is a frontrunner in the category due to her recent critically-acclaimed performance as Tammy Faye Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye. And in the spirit of the woman she portrayed, Chastain has shown true allyship when choosing her date to the Oscars pre-ceremony luncheon: prominent HIV activist, Reverend Steve Pieters.
Pieters was famously interviewed by Bakker in 1985 in a conversation around the AIDS epidemic that was devasting the country at the time. The move was a bold one for Bakker at the time, whose key audience was primarily right-wing and Christian, and solidified her role as an ally to both the HIV and LGBTQ+ communities. This is a side of Bakker that Chastain, who also worked as a producer on the film, says she hopes people will see more than Bakker’s famous taste for heavy eye makeup.
“I believe that Tammy and Steve Pieters saved lives that day, through that interview," said Chastain on EW's podcast The Awardist. "I felt ashamed that this woman hadn't been acknowledged for that, and instead had been criticized for how she decided to present herself in terms of her mascara.”
In the film, Pieters is played by actor Randy Havens, who reenacts the interview alongside Chastain. In both the riveting scene and the real interview, Bakker shows compassion for Pieters and his situation as an out gay man living with HIV. That this occurred during a time when HIV was an often-deadly condition and stigma was at an all-time high, showed an extra dose of bravery and activism on Bakker’s part.
At the Oscars luncheon, Pieters enjoyed an afternoon hobnobbing and taking photos with Chastain and other A-listers, including Eyes of Tammy Faye costar Andrew Garfield (who plays Tammy’s former husband Jim Bakker) as well as stars from other nominated films like The Lost Daughter, Being the Ricardos, and Parallel Mothers.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye is now available to buy or rent on multiple digital platforms in addition to streaming on HBO Max.