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After Globes, all eyes on Oscar

‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ ‘The Favourite,’ ‘Boy Erased’ just a few of the year’s best

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Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman star in ‘The Favourite.’ (Photo by Atsushi Nishijima for Fox Searchlight)

It’s more than a week into the New Year already, and for movie fans, that means the season is upon us – awards season, that is.

Though some organizations start handing out their prizes in early December, the presentation of the Golden Globes – which took place last Sunday – is the first of the big, glitzy ceremonies we expect from a Hollywood awards show. The telecast of this year’s affair was watched by 18.6 million people, a little down (2 percent) from last year but a much smaller decline in viewership than those experienced by the Oscars and other awards in recent years.

The Globes are a big enough event in their own right, of course, but they are also a signal that the year’s Oscar race has kicked off in earnest. The Globes are considered the first real barometer for which films stand the best chance of grabbing Academy gold, and even though the winners aren’t guaranteed to win an Oscar, too, they are almost assured to be front-runners.

The Globes split the categories for most of the big awards – Best Picture, Actor, Actress, etc. – into two divisions, “Drama” and “Musical or Comedy.”  This makes handicapping the Oscars a tricky endeavor, since the Academy doesn’t make the same distinction; it means – in the performing categories, anyway – only half the number of nominees make the cut, and it’s happened before that even Globe winners get shut out from the final ballot.

Even so, it’s impossible to resist speculation about what the Golden Globes presage for the Oscars.

This year’s Globes reflected the increase of onscreen LGBT inclusion in 2018 by including what seemed like a record number of nominations for movies with queer narratives and characters. 

The surprise winner in the Best Picture Drama category was “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a blockbuster biopic of Freddie Mercury – played by Rami Malek, who also won Best Actor in a Drama – in which the singer’s sexuality is a chief point of focus.  The winner for Best Picture, Comedy or Musical was “Green Book,” about the relationship between real-life black musician Don Shirley and his white driver in the segregated South of the early 1960s; Shirley was gay, although the film barely touches on his sexuality, and again the actor who played him –Mahershala Ali – won the Globe in the supporting category. Another winner, Olivia Colman as Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical for “The Favourite,” also played a queer character.

Besides the three winners, a total of five other performers were nominated for playing LGBT characters in films – and since the Globes also celebrate television, the tally is even higher. For queer roles on the small screen, actors Darren Criss (“The Assassination of Gianni Versace”) and Ben Whishaw (“A Very English Scandal”) won as Best Actor and Supporting Actor, respectively, in a Limited Series or Movie Made for Television. Whishaw – the only one of the winners who publicly identifies as LGBT in real life – even dedicated his award to Norman Scott, whom he portrayed in the show, and called him a “queer hero.”

There was also a wide showing in the non-acting categories for LGBT-centric narratives.  On the film side, besides “Rhapsody” and “The Favourite,” others on the slate include “Boy Erased” and “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” In addition, movies like “A Star Is Born” and “Crazy Rich Asians,” both of which were mainstream hits and included queer characters in supporting roles, were heavily represented among the nominations.

In terms of Oscar, this means there are a lot of potential nominees in the running that could allow the Academy to promote and reward inclusion and support for the LGBT community – something for which many will be watching closely, in light of the Kevin Hart controversy – a debacle that may still be ongoing, considering reports that the Academy’s leadership may still be open to reinstating the comedian as this year’s host.

There are good odds that some of these will make the cut. The surest bet is probably on “The Favourite,” Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ bawdy and quirky tale of behind-the-scenes lesbian intrigue in the 18th-century court of Queen Anne. It’s one of the year’s most-lauded films, and with up to 10 slots open in the Best Picture category, it seems certain to earn a nomination there; almost as probable are nods for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, and odds are good it will snag nominations in several technical and design categories, also.

The film’s three stars are likely shoo-ins; two of them, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, are former winners and Oscar favorites, and have both been nominated in the Supporting Actress category for most of the major awards so far; as for Olivia Colman, she may be less-well known – at least in the U.S. – than her co-stars, but she has been taking a hefty share of wins for her turn as the childish and petulant Queen Anne. All three actresses will almost certainly be nominated; Stone and Weisz would be competing against each other in the same category, potentially canceling each other out and making a win improbable, but Colman stands a stronger-than-average chance of being named Best Actress – especially after her win at the Golden Globes.

She has heavy competition, however.  “A Star is Born” features the breakthrough screen performance of Lady Gaga, who was an early favorite in the Oscar race – though her loss to Glenn Close’s work in “The Wife” at the Golden Globes, seen by many as an upset, may not bode well for her chances.  The Bradley Cooper-directed remake is another almost-sure Best Picture nominee, and will probably get nods for its screenplay, for Cooper (as both director and leading actor), and for Sam Elliott (Best Supporting Actor), as well. Still, with Gaga facing off not only against Colman’s formidable performance but sentimental preference for Close (she’s been nominated six times without winning, and Oscar loves to reward beloved stars who are seen as long-overdue), this film’s (and Gaga’s) easiest shot at a victory is a Best Original Song award for “Shallow.”

The third “big” LGBT title in the running is “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which survived a troubled production history – and accusations of “straight-washing” when early previews seemed to indicate an erasure of Mercury’s queer identity – to earn the biggest box-office take of any LGBT movie to date. While critical response to the film has been mixed, at best, it has proven to be highly popular with audiences, and Malek’s performance as Mercury has garnered nearly universal acclaim. Since he took home a Golden Globe, he could be poised to grab an Oscar as well – though previous winner Christian Bale, who also scored at the Globes for his performance as Dick Cheney in “Vice,” probably has the edge. As for the movie itself, it may snag a few other nominations, including for Best Picture – but even with a Golden Globe win under its belt, a win there is probably a long shot.

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” a true-life drama about a literary lesbian con artist and her gay accomplice, is also on the buzz list; leading actress Melissa McCarthy, and her supporting co-star, Richard E. Grant, have been predicted as nominees in their respective categories (both were nominated for Globes). With the aforementioned three-way competition in the Best Actress race, it seems improbable that McCarthy could win – particularly considering that Oscar has a history of denying victory to comedic actors in dramatic roles.

As for Grant’s chances in the Supporting Actor category, he will probably have to face off against Mahershala Ali and Timothée Chalamet. Ali won the Globe, so he has a strong chance. Chalamet, the acclaimed young star of last year’s “Call Me By Your Name” has a huge LGBT fan base that will be rooting for him, even though the teenaged meth addict he plays in “Beautiful Boy” is straight; he lost out on last year’s Best Actor prize, and the Academy has a history of “making up” for past oversights by bestowing awards in subsequent years – making many Oscar pundits place him as the odds-on favorite to win this one. Either way, Grant’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me” performance is a very dark horse.

“Boy Erased,” the film adaptation of Garrard Conley’s memoir about his experiences in a Christian “conversion camp” for gay teens, was anticipated early on as a strong contender for this year’s awards season, but it hasn’t made much of a showing so far; its young star, Lucas Hedges, snagged a Globe nomination, and has a fighting chance of repeating that feat at the Oscars. Of all the films likely to be contenders this year, this one has the most LGBT-centric focus, and of all the actors in the running for playing queer characters, Hedges is the only one who has publicly identified as anything other than straight (though he stopped short of putting a label on his sexuality, saying he sees it as “existing on a spectrum”).  A win for him would send a powerful message of inclusion – but even if he makes the cut in a field limited to only five contenders, his status as a first-time nominee, coupled with the acting pyrotechnics displayed by probable Best Actor front-runners Malek and Bale, make his chances slim.

While those are the biggest – and most probable – contenders for Oscar gold when the Academy Awards are presented on Feb. 24, there are a host of other possibilities. Acclaimed indie films like “We the Animals” or “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” could always earn a surprise nomination in such categories as Screenplay or Cinematography, and there will almost surely be LGBT recipients among the evening’s many winners.

It’s also true that it’s still early in the race – until the Oscar nominations are announced on Jan. 22, it’s all just speculation as to who will even be competing, and the other awards ceremonies upcoming before the Academy presentation (especially the SAG Awards on Jan. 27) will no doubt provide further hints to the way Oscar voters will lean.

No matter how it all plays out, it seems certain that the 91st Academy Awards will have a host of LGBT-friendly nominees on its slate; whether or not any of them actually end up as winners is something that remains to be seen.

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For better and for worse, Oscar makes history again

The biggest queer moment of the night was Ariana DeBose’s historic win as the first out woman to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress

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Jessica Chastain accepts the Oscar for Lead Actress (Screenshot/ABC)

HOLLYWOOD – By the time you read this, the biggest moment from this year’s Oscars will already be old news – but before we can move on to a discussion of what the wins and losses reveal about the state of LGBTQ+ representation, inclusion, and acceptance in the Hollywood film industry, we have to talk about it anyway.

When Will Smith stepped up onto that stage at the Dolby Theatre to physically assault Chris Rock – a professional comedian, doing the job he was hired to do in good faith that he would be safe from bodily harm while doing it – for making an admittedly cheap and not-very-funny joke, it was a moment of instant Oscar history that overshadowed everything else about the evening.

There’s been enough discussion about the incident that we don’t need to take up space for it here – tempting as it may be – other than to assert a firm belief that violence is never a good way to express one’s disapproval of a joke, especially during a live broadcast that is being seen by literally millions of people.

Smith, whether or not he deserved his win for Best Actor, succeeded only in making sure his achievement – which could have been a triumphant and historic moment for Black representation in Hollywood, not to mention an honorable cap for his own long and inspiring career – will be forever marred, and the palpably insincere non-apology that replaced what could otherwise have been his acceptance speech was only a textbook example of putting out fire with gasoline.

Yet that polarizing display also allows us a springboard into the much-more-important subject of queer visibility in the movies, thanks to another Smith-centered controversy (and there have been so many, really) from the early days of his career that sheds a lot of light on the homophobic attitudes of an industry almost as famous as playing to both sides of the fence as it is for the art it produces. 

Back in 1993, riding his success as a hip-hop artist-turned actor and springboarding from his “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” fame into a movie career, Smith appeared in the film adaptation of John Guare’s critically-acclaimed play “Six Degrees of Separation,” playing a young con artist who preys on a wealthy Manhattan couple (played by Donald Sutherland and Stockard Channing), convincing them to give them money and even move into their home before they eventually discover the truth after coming home to find him in bed with a male hustler.

Unsurprisingly (it was 1993, after all), some of the play’s homosexual content was “softened” for the film version, but Smith was still called upon to perform in a scene depicting a kiss between himself and co-star Anthony Michael Hall. After initially agreeing, he abruptly changed his mind (due to advice from friend-and-mentor Denzel Washington, who warned him that kissing a man onscreen could negatively impact his future career) and refused to do the kiss, necessitating the use of camera trickery to accomplish the scene.

Decades later, Smith expressed regret at the choice, saying it was “immature” and that he should have gone ahead with the kiss – but the story nevertheless provides some insight about the pressure placed on actors in Hollywood to appear heterosexual for their audiences, no matter what.

Despite advancements, that pressure continues today – and Smith, whose unorthodox and publicly rocky marriage already has put him under an arguably unfair microscope, has also been alleged (most notoriously by trans actress Alexis Arquette, who made controversial comments about the couple shortly before her death in 2016) to be participating in a sham marriage in an effort to conceal both his own and his wife’s queer sexuality, may well have been feeling it when he was moved to assert his masculinity at the Academy Awards.

True or not, such rumors still have the potential for ruining careers in Hollywood; and while it may be a facile oversimplification to assume that homophobia was behind Smith’s ill-advised breach of decorum, it’s nevertheless a topic that goes straight to the heart of why the Academy, even in 2022, has such an abysmal track record for rewarding – or even including – openly queer actors on Oscar night.

Granted, things have improved, at least in terms of allowing queerness to be on display at the ceremony. On Sunday night, out Best Actress nominee Kristen Stewart attended with her fiancée, Dylan Miller, with the couple sharing a public kiss on the red carpet as they arrived for the festivities; the trio of female hosts – which included out woman of color Wanda Sikes alongside fellow comedians Amy Schumer and Regina Hall – called out Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill with a defiant joke during their opening presentation.

Jessica Chastain – who won Best Actress for playing unlikely LGBTQ ally and AIDS advocate Tammy Faye Baker in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” – made an emotional speech decrying anti-LGBTQ legislation and advocating for all people to be “accepted for who we are, accepted for who we love, and to live a life without the fear of violence or terror.”

Numerous participants in the evening, whether male or female, queer or straight, took the opportunity to push gender boundaries with their couture for the evening (thanks for that, Timothée Chalamet). Elliot Page, joining Jennifer Garner and JK Simmons for a “Juno” reunion, became the first trans man to be a presenter at the Academy Awards. Finally, two beloved queer icons shared the stage for the evening’s finale, as Lady Gaga was joined by wheelchair-bound Liza Minnelli, frail but full of obvious joy at being there, to present the award for Best Picture.

The biggest queer moment of the night, of course, was also one of the first: Ariana DeBose’s historic win as the first out woman to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Accepting the award (for which she was considered by far the front-runner), De Bose proudly highlighted her queerness alongside her other intersecting identities, saying “You see an openly queer woman of color, an Afro-Latina, who found her strength and life through art. And that is, I think, what we’re here to celebrate.”

The evening’s other queer nominees did not fare so well. “Flee,” the Danish documentary about a gay Afghan refugee’s escape from his homeland as a teen, made history by scoring triple nominations as Best Documentary Feature, Best International Feature, and Best Animated Feature, but it went home empty-handed. Stewart – the only other openly queer acting nominee – lost to Chastain for Best Actress, and the divisive but queer-themed “Power of the Dog” lost its bid for Best Picture to “CODA,” as well as all of its multiple acting nominations – though its director, Jane Campion, already the first woman to be nominated twice for the Best Director Prize, became the third woman to actually win it.

Of course, the Oscar, like any other award, should be bestowed upon the most deserving nominee regardless of sexuality, gender, or any other “identity” status, and it seems unreasonable to expect all the queer nominees to win – though some might feel a little reparative favoritism wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing when it comes to balancing the scales. Even so, nobody has a chance to win if they’re not even nominated, and that’s where Oscar has repeatedly and persistently fallen short.

According to a recent report from Professor Russell Robinson, Faculty Director of Berkeley Law’s Center on Race, Sexuality & Culture, analysis of more than half a century of Academy Award acting nominations reveals that out of 68 nominations (and 14 wins) for performers playing LGBTQ roles, only two nominees – neither of whom went on to win – were LGBTQ-identified in real life.

While actors like Tom Hanks (“Philadelphia”), Sean Penn (“Milk”), Penélope Cruz (“Parallel Mothers” and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”), and the late William Hurt (“Kiss of the Spider Woman”) garnered career-boosting acclaim along with their Oscars for playing queer characters, there are no equivalent success stories for queer actors playing straight roles – indeed, only eight openly queer performers have gotten a nomination for ANY role, queer or otherwise, in the entire history of the Oscars, and no transgender performers have ever received one at all.

While one might believe statistics like this are at least beginning to change, bear in mind that both of Benedict Cumberbatch’s two Oscar nods so far were for playing gay men, including this year’s “Power of the Dog” (the first was for playing real-life queer hero Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game”).

The topic of whether straight actors playing queer characters is appropriate at all is of course a hotly-debated one, with reasonable arguments – and queer voices in support of them – on both sides. We won’t attempt an in-depth examination of that issue here, but what is obvious even without the above statistics is that the Academy – or rather, looking at it from a wider scope, Hollywood itself – has a deeply-ingrained prejudice against queerness, regardless of how loudly it proclaims itself to be an ally.

Yes, progress has undeniably been achieved, especially within the last few years; the strong showing of films like “Moonlight,” “Call Me By Your Name,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and other LGBTQ-oriented titles on recent Oscar nights has gone neither unnoticed nor unappreciated.

Yet the Academy – as well as the industry it represents – has a pattern of responding to criticism over its inclusiveness in half-measures. It takes more than a hashtag to end sexual harassment of women in the workplace, no matter how many times it’s flashed on the screen during an awards show, and it takes more than a token nomination every few years to give an underrepresented population a fair place at the table, too.

This year’s ceremony was not without its missteps. The choice to bump awards from the broadcast for time while simultaneously devoting minutes to a James Bond tribute or a performance of a song (“We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from Disney’s “Encanto”) that wasn’t even nominated; accompanying the annual “In Memoriam” tribute to the year’s dearly departed with a choreographed dance and vocal performance; the insensitivity of rushing some winners (like “Drive My Car” director Ryusuke Hamaguchi, accepting when his film won for Best International Feature) to finish their speeches while letting others continue uninterrupted; these and other ill-considered decisions had already blemished the show before “the slap heard ‘round the world” ever happened.

Nevertheless, this Oscar show felt more authentic than many in recent memory. There was a raw, unpredictable quality to it, perhaps rooted in the Academy’s controversial choice to relegate several “lesser” awards to a pre-show presentation, that manifested itself in the uncomfortable response of the audience to the often sharp humor of hostesses Sikes, Schuman, and Hall – who mercilessly skewered Hollywood’s say-one-thing-do-another approach to sexism, racism, homophobia and more throughout the show, often with visible apprehension over how their jokes might land.

Nervousness notwithstanding, their presence and their comedic calling-out of industry hypocrisy, along with the willingness of the celebrities in the house to laugh about it, was an element that lifted the proceedings enough to make them not only bearable, but sometimes even enjoyable.

That doesn’t mean the Academy can rest on its laurels. While it’s become common for their awards show – and all the others, for that matter – to serve as a kind of celebrity roast, where jokes are made and laughed at about the industry’s hot-button issue of the day, the persistent problems in Hollywood can’t be corrected just by allowing its workers to blow off steam by making fun of them once a year.

The film industry thinks that by going along with self-mocking humor about its own misogyny, racism, and homophobia, it gets a pass to continue ignoring the growing demand from the public to eliminate those same toxic ingredients from its standard recipe.

Perhaps the Smith incident, based as it seems to have been in a show of masculine dominance, will prompt some soul-searching within the entertainment community over its own rampant hypocrisy. Let’s hope so, because if the Academy Awards are ever to be truly inclusive in their representation of every segment of our society, no matter who they are or who they love, that’s something that has to happen first in the movies their prizes are meant to honor.

We’ve come a long way, to be sure, but we’re not there yet.

******************

Jessica Chastain Accepts the Oscar for Lead Actress:

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First openly queer woman of color, Ariana DeBose wins an Oscar

It was DeBose’s first academy award nomination and Oscar. The awards ceremony was held at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood

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Ariana DeBose in 'West Side Story' courtesy of Amblin Entertainment & 20th Century Studios

HOLLYWOOD – North Carolina native Ariana DeBose, who identifies as a Black-biracial queer Afro-Latina, won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress Sunday for her portrayal of Anita in Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of West Side Story.

The film was based on the 1957 Tony award-winning Broadway musical production directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and a book by Arthur Laurents.

DeBose in the category for Best Supporting Actress has previously won a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA. She was awarded the Oscar over her fellow nominees in the category including Aunjanue Ellis for King Richard, Kirsten Dunst for The Power of The Dog, Jessie Buckley for The Lost Daughter, and Dame Judi Dench for Belfast.

“Imagine this little girl in the back seat of a white Ford Focus. When you look into her eyes, you see an openly queer woman of color, an Afro Latina, who found her strength in life through art. And that’s what I believe we’re here to celebrate,” DeBose said in her acceptance speech.

“So to anybody who’s ever questioned your identity ever, ever, ever or you find yourself living in the gray spaces, I promise you this: There is indeed a place for us,” she added.

It was DeBose’s first academy award nomination and Oscar. The awards ceremony was held at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood and were hosted by Out lesbian comedian Wanda Sykes, actors Regina Hall and Amy Schumer.

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The Associated Press: Oscars Special, editor’s picks

For the first time in two years, the Academy Awards are rolling out the red carpet at Hollywood’s’ Dolby Theatre

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

NEW YORK – As the entertainment, motion picture and film communities gather in Los Angeles for the 94th annual Oscars ceremony at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood Sunday evening, the editors of the Associated Press have curated the news agency’s top six stories prior to this evening’s gala.

Oscars set for return to normal, except all the changes

LOS ANGELES (AP) — For the first time in two years, the Academy Awards are rolling out the red carpet at Los Angeles’ Dolby Theatre for what the film academy hopes will be a…Read More

The Oscars are tonight. Here’s how to watch or stream live

The 94th Academy Awards are right around the corner with just enough time to squeeze in watches of some of the 10 best picture nominees before the lights go down in the Dolby…Read More

Oscar Predictions: Will ‘Power of the Dog’ reign supreme?

Ahead of the 94th Academy Awards, Associated Press Film Writers Lindsey Bahr and Jake Coyle share their predictions for a ceremony with much still up in the…Read More

List of nominees for the 94th Academy Awards

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Nominees for the 94th Academy Awards, which were announced Tuesday via a livestream. Winners will be announced on March 27 in Los Angeles. Best actor:…Read More

Oscars to celebrate ‘Godfather,’ ‘Bond’ anniversaries

LOS ANGELES (AP) — James Bond didn’t get an Oscar nomination this year, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t be part of the ceremony. It’s the 60th anniversary of the first…Read More

Oscars celebrate May, Jackson, Ullmann and Glover

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Elaine May was the last to arrive and the first to leave at the Governors Awards on Friday in Los Angeles. Her fellow honorees, Samuel L. Jackson, Liv…Read More

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