Despite opportunities, Oscars short on LGBTQ nominations

Coleman Domingo in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Cr. David Lee / Netflix.

The Oscars have been hailed for diversity this year — including nominations for Chloé Zhao, a woman of color for Best Director, and both Muslim Riz Ahmed and Asian Steven Yeun for Best Actor. But there is a disappointing lack of LGBT representation.

Viola Davis scored her fourth nomination, making history as the most nominated Black actress, for her performance as the title character in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” And Ma Rainey isn’t straight; she canoodles with Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige) in the film. Alas, out gay director George C. Wolfe, and out gay actor (and Philly native) Colman Domingo were shut out of the awards. The film also wasn’t nominated for Best Picture. But “Ma Rainey” is sure to be recognized on Oscar night — the late Chadwick Boseman is expected to win Best Actor for his knockout performance. 

Davis is competing in the Best Actress category against Andra Day for her title role in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.” The film, directed by out gay Philly native Lee Daniels, hints at a same-sex relationship between the singer and Tallulah Bankhead (Natasha Lyonne). And like Wolfe, Daniels did not get nominated for his direction. The film also didn’t get nominated in any other category. 

Both women, however, are likely to lose out to Carey Mulligan, the current frontrunner who was nominated for her dazzling portrayal of Cassandra, a woman hellbent on revenge in “Promising Young Woman.” Laverne Cox, who plays Cassandra’s best friend would have made history as the first trans actress — Elliot Page, notwithstanding — to be nominated for an Oscar if her performance had been recognized, but it was not.

Other also-rans include Rosamund Pike, who won a Golden Globe for her spiky turn as the devious lesbian Marla Grayson in “I Care a Lot.” Likewise, Jodie Foster won a Golden Globe for her supporting role in “The Mauritanian,” but the two-time Oscar-winner and out actress was shut out of the Oscars for her performance this year.

Many LGBT films and filmmakers that were shortlisted were also snubbed.

“Welcome to Chechnya,” by out gay director David France, who was previously Oscar nominated for “How to Survive a Plague,” missed a berth in both for Best Documentary and Best Visual Effects categories for his devastating film that shined a critical light on the antigay purges in Ramzan Kadyrov’s Chechnya.
Another documentary feature, “Boys State,” about the week-long experiment in self-government and civil discourse sponsored annually by the American Legion, featured a gay subject. The film campaigned heavily for a nomination but failed to become one of the five finalists.

In the Best International Film Category, three films with queer connections failed to make the cut. “Two of Us,” a poignant romantic drama about two older lesbians, was France’s entry in the category, and showcased a luminous performance by Barbara Sukowa. Likewise, Guatemala’s Oscar submission by out gay filmmaker Jayro Bustamante was overlooked. His astonishing film, “La Llorona,” concerned a war criminal haunted by the horrors of genocide. “Charlatan,” Agnieszka Holland’s fantastic film about a gay doctor who can diagnose patient’s maladies from their urine, was also shunned. 

Tilda Swinton in “The Human Voice.”

In the live-action short film categories, out gay filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, who won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for “Talk to Her” in 2003, was considered a likely shoo-in for his live-action short, “The Human Voice” starring Tilda Swinton, but somehow this dazzling film became an also-ran. (His short is currently scheduled to open at the Ritz Five April 9 along with his Oscar nominated comedy, “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”).

However, one short film which features a relationship between two female characters did get nominated, Adrien Merigeau’s animated film, “Genius Loci.” The film is a dazzling, heady and artistic fusion of color and image. It has an outside chance at victory. But at least it was nominated. Steve Hunter’s animated short, “Out” about a young boy coming out to his family, was the first short produced by Pixar and Disney film to feature a gay lead character. It won’t be competing for Oscar gold. Nor will gay filmmakers Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson, who worked with Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, on their fabulous animated film, “Kapaemahu,” about two-spirits in Tahiti and Hawaii. 

In the music categories, the Oscar-baiting lesbian drama, “Ammonite” — which failed to generate sufficient buzz for its leads, Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan — missed its award opportunity for Best Original Score, the only category where it was shortlisted. However, “Husavik,” the song from “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga,” a film which features a gay character, did receive a nod in the Best Original Song category. 

Neither “The Prom,” directed by out gay filmmaker Ryan Murphy, nor “The Boys in the Band,” which Murphy produced, scored any nominations. Even films such as the moving gay romance, “I Carry You with Me” (forthcoming in May), did not campaign strongly enough to enter the competition this year.

We will see if any of the few queer-themed films or talent nominated wins on April 25.