LGBT at the Oscars | The Films the Academy Honored (and Snubbed)
Although there has been a lot controversy at this year’s Academy Awards about the lack of nominees of color, there is still a notable amount of diversity when it comes to sexuality. In nominee The Danish Girl, Eddie Redmayne plays a man who comes to realize that he is, in fact, a woman trapped in a man’s body. Todd Haynes’ Carol is a romance between two women, both of whom were nominated for acting awards. Some have even seen Inside Out as a polemic on transsexuality or bisexuality, because the protagonist has both male and female emotions in her head, and all the other characters have emotions that are uniformly gendered.
The Academy has famously honored numerous LGBT films over the years, and many actors have been nominated, and many have won, Best Actor or Best Actress for their portrayal of LGBT characters. Despite a noticeable lack of racial diversity in recent years, the last decade of recognized LGBT films has reflected an enormous sea change in the rights, the visibility, and the acceptance of LGBT people.
This is not to say the Academy has always gotten it right. For many years, queer films were often ignored or snubbed by the Academy, and several truly great and historically significant LGBT films have escaped their attention.
Crave is here to reflect on the history of honorifics and oversights committed by the Academy.
Dog Day Afternoon (1976)
One of the standout films of the 1970s – perhaps the greatest era for American film – Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon won an Oscar for Best Screenplay, and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Editing, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Director. It’s about a man who robs a bank in order to get money for his boyfriend who seeks a sex change. The best thing about Dog Day Afternoon is how casually Pacino’s sexuality is mentioned.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Ang Lee’s soulful and moving drama about the romance between two cowboys that lasted in secret for many years was one of the best films of 2005, and it earned eight Oscar nominations, winning three (for Directing, Writing, and Score). That it lost to the preachy and dumb Crash is, to this day, considered an injustice.
Tom Hanks was, until this film, commonly seen as a comedian. With Philadelphia, he won his first Oscar. The film was about a gay lawyer who is fired because he has AIDS. When he takes his case to the law, it’s revealed that he may have been fired for his sexuality instead. This was one of the first major Hollywood releases in my lifetime that so openly dealt with gay characters.
A pre-op trans woman learns that she, as a male, fathered a son, now a teenage runaway. She must now step up and be the parent she never was. Felicity Huffman, a cis actress, managed to play the lead trans woman character so well that she fooled some audience members – I remember hearing audiences question what gender she actually was. She was nominated for an Academy Award.
Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
Brandon Teena was a real-life trans boy who was tragically murdered by local men in Nebraska. In Boys Don’t Cry, Hilary Swank breathes life into Brandon, giving him a gentle, romantic soul. This was the first trans character to be so recognized by the Academy, and Swank won an Oscar. Her co-star, Chloë Sevigny, was also nominated.
The Kids Are All Right (2010)
This story of a married lesbian couple whose teen children seek out their biological father was nominated for four Oscars. The film also ultimately argues that the lesbian marriage is stronger for the kids, flying in the face of an old, out-dated conservative argument about gay parents. The Kids Are All Right was nominated for Best Picture.
The Hours (2002)
Although the film is ultimately about suicide, The Hours is also a film about three generations of women whose lives are effected by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. Two of the three women are gay or bisexual, and the third has a gay male friend. The Hours was nominated for nine Oscars, and won for Best Actress.
Director Gus Van Sant has done more creative films about gay characters, so it’s ironic that his Milk, one of his safest and cleanest, should be recognized by the Academy. Milk tells the story of Harvey Milk, America’s first openly gay elected official, played by Sean Penn. Penn won an Academy Award, as did the film’s screenwriter. It was nominated in seven other categories.
Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
Abdellatif Kechiche’s film was a careful tale of sexual discovery, intense love, hot sex, awkward life-blending, vocational clashes, relationship boredom, and painful splitting, all between two young women in France. Due to an oblique rule about release dates, however, the film was declared ineligible for Best Foreign Film. Perhaps, were it eligible, it would have received more attention and the awards it deserved.
Mysterious Skin (2004)
Gregg Araki’s most emotionally complex film sought to dispel certain myths about the link between childhood molestation and sexuality. The hero, at age 8, is already sexual, already attracted to older men, and already gay. He is then victimized by an older man, and we see the toll that takes on him. The NC-17-rated film is frank and forthright, and the performances are great. It didn’t even come close to an Oscar.
The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (1972) and Fox and His Friends (1975)
Rainer Werner Fassbinder is one of the masters of world cinema, and his extensive filmography is daunting (44 films in 14 years). Two of Fassbinder’s greatest films (and he has several indispensable classics) deal with queer relationships. In Bitter Tears, an older women mistreats her younger lovers. In Fox, class breaks down in the face of the gay community, sometimes with tragic consequences. Neither film was recognized by the Academy, and Fassbinder himself has never been recognized.
Wachowski Starship’s debut feature is still well loved by those who have seen it, and is begrudgingly accepted by those who have come to hate the duo’s later films. In this shady neo-noir, two women fall in love and plot against an evil husband. Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly give career-best performances, and the screenplay is awesome. No Oscars, though.
Scorpio Rising (1964)
Kenneth Anger’s abstract, experimental musing on gay biker iconography isn’t exactly the type of short film that gets Oscar nominations, and that was doubly true in 1964. Today, Scorpio Rising is considered one of the most important queer films in cinema history. At the time, no one at the Academy noticed.
Happy Together (1997)
Wong Kar-Wai’s intense gay romance is gorgeous, wrenching, and unflinching. The men love each other passionately, and their relationship is tested by extended departures and reunions. The 1990s saw an explosion of queer cinema, and this was one of the better films from that era. But it wasn’t seen by the Academy as one of the better foreign films that year.
It’s surprising how few people talk about Basil Dearden’s Victim, one of the earliest films to openly discuss homosexuality. In it, a gay lawyer is blackmailed because of his sexuality, and is eventually outed. It’s a strong and complex drama with great writing and acting, and yet it goes unacknowledged to this day by Academy voters and almost everyone else.
Top Image: Focus Features
Witney Seibold is a contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. He also contributes to Legion of Leia and to Blumhouse. You can follow him on “The Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.