When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced this year’s Oscars nominees last week, GLAAD declared it the most LGBTI-inclusive year ever.
The justification for such a claim was that more than half of the eight Best Picture nominees are inclusive: The Favorite, A Star Is Born, Bohemian Rhapsody, Green Book, and Vice.
While there are wins for LGBTI representation in Hollywood this year, to be sure, GLAAD’s enthusiastic proclamation is misleading – and fails to demand more of Hollywood.
This year’s Oscars are not as triumphant for LGBTI inclusion is they may seem on the surface. It is not just enough to have inclusion at all, but how said inclusion is depicted.
There are plenty of nominees to be excited about.
Out pop star and LGBTI icon, Lady Gaga, is nominated twice. Her first nomination is for Best Actress, while her second is for Best Original Song, which she almost certainly has in the bag.
The Favourite – telling the very queer and very brazen story of two women (Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone) vying for the favor of England’s Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) – is one of the best films of the year. It is one of two movies with the most nominations of the year, and deserves all the recognition it’s receiving and more.
Vice, a brutal indictment of former Vice President Dick Cheney, shows the coming out of one of Cheney’s daughter, Mary (Allison Pill). The movie’s coming out scene is done well, and it does not shy away from criticizing Cheney for not better supporting his gay daughter.
Elsewhere, categories outside of Best Picture also boast representation, including Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant in the acting categories for the film Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which tells the true story of two queer con artists.
It is, however, notable that Gaga is the only out queer person nominated in the acting categories. Further, a lack of Best Picture or directing nod for Can You Ever Forgive Me? continues to show the Academy’s lack of recognition for female filmmakers.
Harmful representation is no representation at all
Unfortunately, two films which have been doing exceptionally well on the awards circuit, do indeed have representation – but representation that harms our community.
Green Book tells the story of the friendship between piano legend Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), who reportedly had ‘gay encounters’ in his life but never came out, and his friendship with Italian chauffeur Tony ‘Lip’ Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen).
Shirley’s living family members issued a sharp rebuke of the film, referring to it as a ‘symphony of lies’.
They say the film manipulated the friendship between Shirley and Vallelonga (whose son, Nick Vallelonga, penned the script) and described the film as ‘jarring’ and ‘hurful’.
Further, they also said that Nick Vallelonga approached Shirley three decades ago and Shirley ‘flatly refused’ a movie about his life.
Following these revelations, Ali called the Shirley family and apologized for any offense. He said he did not know Shirley had living family members whom he could have consulted.
Though the family mentioned nothing of Shirley’s sexuality, their comments are nonetheless troubling on top of the film’s content itself, depicting a queer black man through the lens of the dated and gross magical negro trope.
The film has won numerous awards so far, namely for Ali’s performance, though it also notably won Best Screenplay and Best Movie – Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes.
The travesty of Bohemian Rhapsody
No film’s claim to LGBTI representation, however, is more egregious than Bohemian Rhapsody.
There is first the matter of the film’s original director, Bryan Singer, who was fired from the project and now faces more extensive allegations of sexually assaulting and raping young men.
This automatically taints the film – even if Rami Malek, who plays Freddie Mercury in the film, doesn’t thank Singer in his Golden Globe acceptance speech, it doesn’t take away Singer’s involvement in the film and how that reflects on telling the story of one of the greatest LGBTI figures of the 20th century.
More recently, there is the disastrous press tour for the film, from Malek’s claims that Mercury himself didn’t want Malek to know about the allegations against Singer, to original Queen band member Brian May apologizing for appearing to defend Singer.
Maybe, then, he was not the right choice for a film about such a beloved queer icon. Even beyond the allegations, the misogyny present in Singer’s past films (X-Men: Days of Future Past being just one horrifying installment) should have disqualified him from the start.
Bohemian Rhapsody’s content is not much better.
Beyond merely being a poorly made film, it fails to examine Mercury’s queer identity in any meaningful or nuanced ways, to say nothing of his identity as an immigrant. He was a man who continues to mean many things to many people, and his influence and impact on the queer community cannot be overstated.
Only two years ago did a movie present a nuanced, compassionate, and touching portrayal of queer men of color and win Best Picture – and Bohemian Rhapsody cannot hold a candle to Moonlight.
For the first mainstream, big-screen depiction of Mercury to serve no authenticity or justice to Mercury’s identity should automatically remove its claim for LGBTI representation.
We can and must demand better
When it comes to the Oscar nominations this year, we cannot ignore the wonderful LGBTI representation that does exist. There are some truly great nominees depicting LGBTI existence and experience.
That does not mean, however, any film with an ounce of representation deserves such praise.
To do so only gives Hollywood the terrible impression that these are the films we want and deserve.
The fight for representation feels exhausting at times, but it nonetheless remains critical. Stories are a way to teach compassion and open minds. By putting forth stories that are anything less than authentic and humane does us all a disservice.
The Oscars will take place on 24 February.