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"We Are the Champions" (on LGBT Representation at the Oscars)

by Deborah Lipp

2019 was a very LGBT Oscars. (Well, at least LGB.) And it was not merely the presence of LGB characters, although this was staggering in numbers. It was also that many were presented in a new way.

Consider Can You Ever Forgive Me? Melissa McCarthy was not nominated for playing a lesbian. She was nominated for playing a famous writer—a famous lesbian writer. I’m not particularly a fan of the “happens to be” formation—I think it erases the struggle and complexity of arriving at a queer identity. Let’s face it, no one “happens to be” queer. We get there through a process that is sometimes difficult, or even agonizing, sometimes complex and winding. There’s always a road to be taken, always an arrival that may or may not require yet more journeying. Despite that, our stories should be about more than how we got there...

We need more stories than merely, “I came out, that was hard” or, “I came out and then I got AIDS.” They should be about, “I fought for the attention of the Queen of England,” or “I forged literary letters,” and this year, they were.

Queer women, in particular, have it rough in the movies. Sure, Hollywood isn’t forcing each and every one of us to have AIDS. On the other hand, queer men are allowed to exist, often with identities and agency, rarely as the object of the heterosexual male gaze. I mean, purely based on numbers, since 2010 there have been nine Best Picture nominees, including three wins, featuring queer men in leading or major supporting roles. In that period, only three Best Picture nominees featured queer women, and none won. So Can You Every Forgive Me? and The Favourite are significant films in terms of female representation, the first such at the Oscars since 2011.

Not all the stories were great. Bohemian Rhapsody did a disservice to gay and bisexual men almost as much as it did a disservice to rock and roll. And don’t get me started on Green Book. But the sheer volume. The presence. The diversity, complexity, and range of queerness. QUEER AS FUCK YOU GUYS. Three of eight Best Picture nominees with queer main characters, and minimum of one queer character in every acting category. Sweet hopping pogo sticks, that is a lot of representation!

In that context, I bring you the opening number. Bohemian Rhapsody may have gotten Freddy Mercury’s joy in his sexuality very wrong, but it was right about how closeted he was to his fans. But, y’know, you can take his joy, and make it visible, and open, and fully, vibrantly queer by having a bejeweled Adam Lambert sing the lead.

It made me feel that, yes, we are the champions. Of the world.


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Reader Comments (33)

And none of these queer characters were played by queer actors. Queer actors are regulated to the side roles that are one-dimensional and cliche. Only straight actors are given the good queer roles and this year was one of the worst on record. Three of the four acting awards were queer roles played by straight actors and still to this day no out gay person has ever won an Oscar despite many queer parts winning awards. Your post is completely tone dead and devoid of any real progress for the LGBTQ community.

February 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

huh?! Adam - your comment is devoid of any real progress for the LGBT community.

February 27, 2019 | Unregistered Commenteranonny

Don't forget "Disobedience" and great film and features our 2 of our favourite actresses, Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams.

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Adam - agreed, except I don't think celebrating queerness necessarily means that this post is tone-deaf.

It's weird because movies and mainstream culture has become increasingly more queer which is amazing, but the pantheon of prominent actors/actresses/celebrities remain very, very straight.

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbeyaccount

Seems like a tweet stretched out to article size. Nathaniel don’t force inorganic articles just for content!

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMissy

I burst into tears reading how you described the “happens to be” narrative. People I love say it about me thinking they’re being helpful or supportive of my coming out, but I feel like it dismisses so much about me and how being gay has, in many ways, determined everything about me and my journey. Thank you so much for saying that, Deborah.

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Woah, this post isn’t tone deaf at all. You guys are reaching.
I enjoyed this, thanks Deborah.
But yes, we still have a way to go, in terms of queer actors getting the recognition they deserve. Shouldn’t be too long, I can see the likes of Kristen Stewart, Ben Whishaw or Sarah Paulson up there soon. Jane Lynch could pull an Allison Janney with the right role. We’ve got Amanda Stenberg and Ezra Miller carving their own paths. It will happen.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should be just be grateful for the crumbs that are thrown our way, but it does feel like things are turning, so rather than bitch, lets be positive and keep the momentum going!!

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJWB

How was Bohemian Rhapsody a disservice to rock and roll? I don't get it.

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRon

Sorry, but I can't share your excitement.

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Adam your insistence on straight actors playing straight roles and gay actors playing gay roles effectively causes more problems. It's acting... and the best actor should get the part, whatever their orientation. There are loads of queer actors out there have spent years trying to AVOID playing just queer roles, and you would reverse the clock on that? What's more with the fluidity of sexuality and so forth - who are you to know whether Rami Malek has sucked a dick or two in his time? Why should he need to broadcast this in the interests of equality?

Also as a gay actor why the hell should my business be anyone else's business? Why should my sexuality be known to all casting directors and so forth? Fuck off. My business is my business and same as race, my orientation doesn't and shouldn't matter. You're hiring me for my acting skills right? If I felt someone hired me for a gay role simply because I'm gay, I'd feel deeply uncomfortable about it.

To quickly address the article, I have no doubt you have good intentions Deborah and I don't know your personal situation. But millions of queer people choose to live their life with their sexuality as just one aspect of it. You seem to be suggesting this is some betrayal or regressive approach? If i have misunderstood you then I apologize. If not, lay off being so judgmental perhaps. It was lovely to see CYEFM precisely because those 2 characters had so much depth in addition to their queerness. These characters were not defined by their sexuality but they didn't repress it. You want it to go back to what it was before?

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLuke

Luke -- whoa. you seem to have completely misread the article. You are saying exactly what Deborah is saying in this third paragraph and then chastising her for saying something opposite to it. She loves Can You Ever Forgive Me and is applauding it for its deptth and that their queerness is part of who they are, not the storyline itself!

Everyone -- i think everyone must be so tired this week. (I get it the Oscars are exhausting! but fun). But there's been so much misreading of intent of late and so much unecccessary outrage. We can't celebrate queer content because it's not perfect? I'm not about that and if you are, you need to look in the mirror. No art is perfect or if it is in the moment it will still be problematic to some future generation (just look at history). Being angry with everything is counter productive. And just because Deborah, who is queer, doesn't mention the orientation of actors doesn't mean she's against gay actors getting these roles. That wasn't even the point of the article!

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I apologise to Deborah! I did misread what she had written.

I think you are right Nathaniel. There seems to be a lot of bad blood around. Bohemian Rhapsody deserves it, Green Book far less so IMO.

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLuke

There has been representation for years you just have to know where to look.

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Geez Adam, "no out gay person has ever won an Oscar"? Three years ago, when Sam Smith claimed he was the first out gay person to win an Oscar, he was roundly excoriated for the error. Possibly you mean an acting Oscar? Even then, you have to asterisk "out at the time " for Kevin Spacey (ugh).

Adam, I agree we have a long way to go. Men in particular suffer in the roles they are offered once they're out. It doesn't mean we can't celebrate where we are.

Lady Edith -- I was confining myself to Oscar nominees, but you're right.

Missy, don't blame Nathaniel. I was given license to write whatever I was moved to write, and this is 100% my work with no push from Nathaniel besides "please write something."

If you don't like the article, you don't like the article. It's not Nathaniel's fault, and it's not because I'm not queer (I say in the article that I am), and it's not because I don't know my Oscar history. Don't throw false "facts" at me to make your point. Just tell me I'm a lousy writer and move on.

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

We are tired. A better performance won Lead Actress, as the best individual performance of the lineup considered from the nominees of the year should, and we get constant Close hysterics, from you included. Close'll be nominated again, yet some are sulking like it's her funeral. So yes, we're a bit tired.

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLe Sigh

I'm not tired.

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Does no one remember My Beautful Laudrette,The Crying Game,Priscilla,Boys don't Cry,The Children's Hour,My best friends Wedding,Making Love,Desert Hearts and more.

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

I'm still sad Lily Tomlin wasn't nominated for Grandma.

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Markgordonuk, I remember many of those. I certainly didn't mean to imply there were no LGBT movies at the Oscars prior to this year. You even left out one of my very favorites: The Kids are All Right.

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

I’m tired of this obsession with representation in general.

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMax

Adam is called acting for a reason- so are you suggesting only straight actors can play straight roles.

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Markgordokum: these days people have very short memories- cinema is over a hundred years old by now - and I'm shocked when people who say they like movies are not aware of any films made before they were born

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Really I think the triumph here, which Deborah captures, is that people are going to see movies which make them consider queerness, however clumsily it's presented in some of these films.

I can see both sides of the argument when it comes to the casting process, and the main argument for being literal in casting a [insert characteristic] actor/actress in a [insert characteristic] role sits around equality of opportunity. I can see that, for instance, if trans actors aren't getting opportunities in the casting process in general, it must particularly suck when that's also the case in films that are about their experience.

Yet I also see that this is a business, and if an Oscar-winning actor puts bums on seats playing a pre-op male-to-female, versus an unknown trans actor/actress meaning that the film can't get financed - I'd far rather the story gets told, and people have the opportunity to experience it.

But I think if we get too literal with the casting process then (a) we dilute the sense of challenge for an actor stepping up, and (b) we diminish trust in the audience's ability to suspend disbelief.

Recently I saw a production of Amadeus with a black actor playing Salieri. I couldn't have cared less about a black actor playing a white man; I cared that he was a great actor doing the work to make me believe the performance. Should a white actor get the opportunity to play Mandela? Absolutely not, because of a combination of appropriateness when race is so intrinsic to the story of the man being portrayed, and white male actors having a depressingly larger amount of opportunities in general.

I don't want to not have Melissa McCarthy's work in CYEFM. I don't want to not have Timothée Chalamet's work in Call Me By Your Name. I don't want to not have Heath and Jake. Could queer actors have played those roles as well? Very probably. Better? How do you improve on greatness?

It's difficult to have equality of opportunity in the casting process when the casting process is inherently unequal. Casting directors for both the stage and the screen want specific things and they know it when they see it. Actors get rejected for the slightest thing, and often for reasons unrelated to their skill set and life experience. There probably isn't a 40-something white male role that Leonardo DiCaprio couldn't get ahead of a whole queue of other actors, however suitable.

However we get to these stories being told and this upswing of queerness in popular film, the better off everyone - even straight audiences - will be.

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRobUK

What representation? None of these Actors r LGBT, therefore, they do not represent our community. Their wins have 0 impact for us. And read me, im not saying that str8 ppl cannot play a gay character, im saying that there is nothing here to gay ppl to be proud of. Just like putting white ppl in blackface wasnt an advance for black representation. How come that a big part of drama clubs r made of gay ppl and yet, we r such a minority in movie industry? We will have advance when se start to see gay actors, playing gay characters and winning gay oscars.

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDan

Yes Dan I would love to see more out gay actors win Oscars but you are missing the point about seeing gay in mainstream films. It does matter and it makes a difference- cinema is still a powerful medium to change hearts and minds.

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Jaragon, its pretty doubtful that homophobic ppl would see a film like the favourite, and evento more doubtful that they would chance their minds rather than find it disgusting. What would acttualy make a difference in the lgbtq community is seeing lgbtq ppl being succeful in their carrees.

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDan

@ Max - It's the current US "woke" BS. After some overkill it will die down, like all cultural fads. Especially in a world run by algarhythms (like we are very "woke" giving Emmys to Transparent but the algarhythm actually reveals 10x as many people tuned in to Fuller House).

Barbara Walters once gave an interview about how looking back in her career the weirdest thing was a stretch in the early 70s in which she kept asking people how they lost their virginities. At the time , it was thought of as progressive and ground breaking and sexually liberated and once the fad was over she looked back and just thought it was tacky as fuck. Twitter mob hysterya will be looked back at as just as tacky (if not worse).

March 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

Obviously my post is regarding acting Oscars. And NO Kevin Spacey does not count as he was not out at the time, further proving my point that in order to get a role that is a good enough to win an Oscar you must stay in the closet, even STILL in 2019.

No I'm not saying that straight actors should play only straight roles and gay actors should only play gay roles, but when ZERO gay actors get the good gay parts can you really tell me that all these straight actors are better suited for the roles??

Was Jared Leto the BEST actor for his part in Dallas Buyers Club??? Can anyone please defend that choice?

And the argument of "well a movie has to get made so they need a star" doesn't work anymore. No one was going to see Dallas Buyers Club to see Jared Leto play a trans woman.

No one was seeing Bohemian Rhapsody because of Rami Malek. Middle America barely even knew his name before the movie and the awards he received.

Until gay actors are given the opportunity to play the good roles then I will continue to call people out for praising hollywood for how far we've come. When Lucas Hedges was asked about this very topic he said he keeps taking these roles because they are good ones. Again, most Americans have no idea and do not care who Lucas Hedges is.

Darren Criss has said he will no longer take gay roles, but only after he has made his career on playing gay roles and getting every award under the sun sans an Oscar. So generous of him.

March 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

Dan thank you. Just read your comment and it's so so spot on. So frustrating and I know it's just a film site and not personal, but as a long time fan I'm slightly disappointed in you Nathaniel for being so laissez-faire about all this. It saddens me to see fellow LGBTQ members just shrug.

March 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

Adam, I am slightly disappointed that you are trying to shame other LGBTQ folks for having opinions different from your own. You are welcome to your opinion but you are not some moral LGBTQ arbitrator on this issue just because you believe yourself to be right.

March 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLuke

Luke I'm sorry you feel so angered, a lot of f-words in your rebuttal, but no one is talking about you. This is not about you as an actor, I don't care your sex or race or orientation. I wish you the best in your career. I don't think you see my point from the same view as me and that's ok. I think we actually agree looking back at what you said. The best actor for the part should get the part. I just don't think Rami Malek knows much about being gay, or that Tom Hanks really was steeped in friends dealing with the AIDS crisis. Something an actor could have very much used in doing that part. I don't think Jared Leto really has any grasp on a trans woman's life. I think many other actors would be better in those roles than they were. Simple as that.

March 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

Adam, I do appreciate what you have said. As I said above, "I agree we have a long way to go. Men in particular suffer in the roles they are offered once they're out. It doesn't mean we can't celebrate where we are."

I stand by that. Out LGBT actors should be able to compete on a level playing field with straight actors for all roles, and until they do, it matters that they're also not considered first for LGBT roles.

AND I stand by my article. It is thrilling to see queer stories on screen that are increasingly complex, diverse, and positive about LBGT people. That is representation. It is not equality. It is not the end of the struggle for true LGBT inclusion. It is not representation by queer actors. But it is representation. I am 57 years old. I remember what it used to look like out there. I watched these Oscars with my lawfully-wedded spouse and you cannot tell me that progress means nothing, even if it's imperfect and there's still plenty of road to travel.

I wrote the article for no other reason than that Professor Spouse and I experienced a true wave of joy at seeing how queer these Oscars were, and I wanted to share that joy. I am very sorry that so many readers are angry with me for sharing my joy.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

"no out gay person has ever won an Oscar"

Repeat after me...

Sir. John. Gielgud!!!

March 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPaulT

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