Even though, as Matt Prigge says in this week's cover story, the Oscars are pretty much bullshit, there’s a lot to be said about the power of the win. And the nomination. For those of us in the all-encompassing LGBTQA category, 2013’s not a very good year. Try to deny the power of Brokeback Mountain and its ensuing acclaim, nominations and wins (not an Oscar, but SAGs and Golden Globes): The massive success of Ang Lee’s 2005 interpretation of Annie Proulx’ short story elevated the queer-themed film to the level of widespread critical success, but also normalized queerness a little bit. In the last 10 years, a small handful of nominated actors have taken home the statue for playing gay, with another slew being nominated. When a straight actor signs on to a film in which he or she will play a homosexual, then knocks it out of the park and stands by his or her performance, it also sends a message to millions of people sitting in those theater seats: Queer stuff isn’t weird.
This year, there are pretty much zero LGBT nominations for the big ones, both in terms of content and the people responsible for the film. Last year was a different story: Out filmmaker Tate Taylor’s The Help got a nod for Best Picture; in theWWher Best Actress category, Rooney Mara played bi in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, while Glenn Close shone as a woman dedicated to her role as a male waiter in Alfred Nobbs; and Beginners star Christopher Plummer won Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of a father coming out to his son at 75. In 2009 and 2010, respectively, Milk and The Kids Are All Right made huge waves for their gay content, earning nominations for Best Film and for the strong performances by Sean Penn, Annette Bening and Julianne Moore.
There are essentially three nominations that LGBT people and allies can root for on Sunday night: Tony Kushner’s Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for Lincoln, How To Survive a Plague for Best Documentary, and ParaNorman, for Best Animated Feature, which quietly features an out jock. Let’s pull these apart real quick. There’s nothing gay about Lincoln, minus Kushner—one of our most cherished living LGBT writers and whose Angels in America mini-series was astonishingly powerful for its portrayal of gay life and exploration of AIDS. Directed and co-written by David France, How To Survive is a deeply moving documentary about the early years of AIDS, its devastation and impact on the LGBT community and the nascent years of ACT UP. Let me tell you, if you haven’t seen it, watch it on Netflix, but not unless you’re ready to weep. It is viciously emotional and absolutely a story that must be told (and heard). Finally, the charming ParaNorman will undoubtedly struggle to beat its competition, (Brave and Wreck-It Ralph, to be sure) but should be applauded for matter-of-factly placing in its cast a big, lovable jock with a boyfriend. But that’s it. That’s all we’ve got in 2013.
The troubling part? It’s a struggle to come up with films and actors that should have been nominated. Two films come to mind: Pariah, which technically may or may not fall into consideration due to its late, late 2011 release, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Pariah was the Dee Rees-directed, Spike Lee-produced story of a 17-year-old girl in Brooklyn struggling to come out in a strict, straight-laced home. The film’s star, Adepero Oduye, gave a commanding performance as Alike, and Kim Wayans was a stunner as Alike’s mother. It got zero nominations from the Academy. And Ezra Miller’s outstanding performance as Patrick in Perks, the film based on Stephen Chbosky’s iconic novel and directed by the author himself, was made doubly powerful by the actor’s quiet real-life coming out.
What’s weird about the dearth of Oscar nominations and, in the same breath, LGBT-themed films, in 2013 is that the last 18 months have seen countless queer struggles overcome and gay rights advocates’ soaring success stories. With DADT repealed, Obama’s re-election and subsequent outspoken support for gay marriage, and same-sex marriage approved in New York, Maine, Maryland and Washington, it’s something everyone is talking about. Where are the films that celebrate these stories? Is it because they’ll show up in 2014, or because Hollywood doesn’t want to spend money on getting them made? Maybe a bit of both. But on Oscar night this weekend, we’re pulling for Tony Kushner, David France and ParaNorman’s Mitch.
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