It has been referred to as the “gay Super Bowl,” and this year, the Oscars lived up to that label. While the nominees and telecast have been accused of lacking diversity in the recent past, Sunday's presentation of the 91st annual Academy Awards ceremony was just the opposite: On the red carpet, on the stage and in the roles awarded, LGBTQ visibility was front and center this year, and it was pretty awesome.
Let's begin with the first thing people see on TV before the ceremony even begins: the red carpet. This year's fashions challenged gender and created some unique and memorable looks. First, of course, is the tuxedo-gown worn by Pose's Billy Porter. A tuxedo on top and a full black gown on the bottom designed by Christian Siriano, it's crazy to think that no one had ever done this before on the red carpet. Thankfully, Porter, who was one of the hosts of ABC's red-carpet special prior to the awards, stole the night fashion-wise. And the viral video floating around of Glenn Close's amazing reaction is priceless.
Similarly, Amy Poehler and Elsie Fisher from Eighth Grade wore androgynous black suits, while Jason Mamoa and Shameik Moore from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse proudly donned pink outfits. The red carpet also saw its first drag queen ever when RuPaul's Drag Race alum and A Star Is Born scene-stealer Shangela made her Oscar debut alongside friend Jenifer Lewis.
On to the main show, which had no host for the first time in 30 years after Kevin Hart stepped down when homophobic tweets from his past resurfaced. After all the homophobic hoopla, it wasn't lost on me that an out gay man opened the show when Adam Lambert fronted a performance by Queen. Score another one for some great LGBTQ representation. The show also featured many out LGBTQ presenters, including Tessa Thompson, Amandla Stenberg and Sarah Paulson.
In terms of out winners, Lady Gaga scored one for the B of LGBTQ when she won Best Song for “Shallow.” She's one of a very small list of out bisexual people who have won Academy Awards. Yes, Gaga presents outwardly as straight most of the time, since she's never been in a relationship with a woman. But as recently as last month, when introducing “Poker Face” during her Jazz & Piano show in Las Vegas, she told the audience that she wrote the song about “when you are with a man and you are thinking about a woman.” What matters is that she identifies as bi. And backstage after winning, she continued her career-long advocacy for her LGBTQ community when she told reporters that she has “a true dream in our future, as we evolve as humanity, that these award shows will not be male and female but that we include everyone.”
And then there are the roles themselves: Oscars in three of the four major acting categories went to actors who portrayed queer roles, in addition to another four LGBTQ roles that were nominated. The three LGBTQ performances that won were Rami Malek, Best Actor for portraying Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody; Olivia Colman, Best Actress for playing Queen Anne, caught in a lesbian love triangle, in The Favourite; and Mahershala Ali, Best Supporting Actor for portraying Dr. Don Shirley in Green Book. And although the Best Supporting Actress award went to Regina King for a non-LGBTQ role, her film, If Beale Street Could Talk, was based on the novel of the same name by queer writer James Baldwin, whom King called “one of the greatest artists of our time” in her acceptance speech.
Malek perhaps made the most explicit reference to his character's sexuality out of all the acceptance speeches, saying, “I think to anyone struggling with [their identity] and trying to find their voice, listen, we made a film about a gay man, an immigrant, who lived his life just unapologetically himself.” While some in the bi community felt slighted that Malek labeled Mercury as gay instead of bi (which the film itself did as well, despite showing his relationship with Mary Austin), I think his intentions were pure, especially since Mercury was so private about that part of his life that the public doesn't really know if he truly identified as gay or bi.
Unfortunately, it must be mentioned that none of the actors who were nominated or won for LGBTQ roles were actually LGBTQ themselves, a concept some people are labeling as “gay-face.” This isn't something new. In the past, many cis-gender, straight actors have taken home Oscars for portraying LGBTQ roles, among them Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club, Charlize Theron for Monster, Tom Hanks for Philadelphia, Hilary Swank for Boys Don't Cry and Sean Penn for Milk. At this year's Oscars, with so many LGBTQ roles getting nominated (and winning), the issue seemed a bit more pronounced. I firmly believe that, unlike race or even gender identity, sexuality is something that can be portrayed by any actor. The very essence of acting is being able to walk in someone else's shoes, so it shouldn't be difficult in 2019 for a straight person to play someone who sleeps with the same sex or for a gay person to play someone who sleeps with the opposite sex.
The issue is that there simply aren't enough LGBTQ actors on the playing field, portraying straight or gay roles. Since that's the case, it just seems unfair that the few, prominent LGBTQ roles that do exist go to straight actors who then go on and win awards for their performances. Out actors including Jodie Foster, Zachary Quinto, Neil Patrick Harris, Jim Parsons, Cheyenne Jackson, Colton Haynes and Ellen Page are A-listers who could take on some of these roles so LGBTQ actors are represented more equally onscreen. Or perhaps the pool of undiscovered talent swarming this city could provide some great LGBTQ actors who could turn into A-listers when given their shot.
Much like the #4PercentChallenge (issued by Time's Up and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, referencing the fact that only 4 percent of the 1,200 top-earning films released between 2007 and 2018 were directed by women), which challenged the industry to announce at least one project with a female director in the next 18 months, it's time for LGBTQ representation to be taken seriously by the industry because it suffers from the same biases and uneven playing field.
It's great for the community that there is more LGBTQ representation in films — surely LGBTQ kids can benefit from seeing themselves onscreen more. But let's go one step further and get some more equal representation for LGBTQ actors as well, because as it stands now, no out actor has ever won an acting Oscar.
Overall, this issue is a larger one that the industry must tackle, but in terms of this year's Oscars, it was a big step in the right direction for LGBTQ representation.
It's important to note that this was also the case for people of color: It was the first time in the history of the Academy Awards that three people of color won the major acting categories, and the first time someone of Egyptian descent (Malek) won in a top performance category. Not to mention that a lot of people of color won many of the non-acting categories for the first time ever.
After the #OscarsSoWhite controversy a few years back, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has actually taken action to improve its diversity problem. Although the majority of current Academy members are still white, the body has invited a record number of film professionals to join, many of whom are people of color. While the Academy hasn't fixed everything, these steps definitely seem to be helping it better represent the true demographics of the country — and that goes for LGBTQ representation as well.
“The fact that I'm celebrating [Freddie Mercury] and this story with you tonight is proof that we're longing for stories like this,” Malek said in his acceptance speech. Indeed, that's true, and I for one am very happy to see these stories more often on the big screen and in the accolades given by organizations like the Academy. The next step is to allow more LGBTQ actors to get up on that stage and celebrate that as well.
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