Trans Media Arts — Oscars Edition

| Mar 7, 2016
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[Cue music]

[Cue announcer] Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome your hostess for the evening.

[Hostess enters stage right]

Alicia Vikander

Alicia Vikander

Hiya everyone! Welcome to March. Hopefully everyone is looking forward to spring. This month we turn to the glitz and glamor of Hollywood celebrating its biggest night. I will be your hostess for this 2016 edition recap of the Oscars. We will take a look at how transgender issues and stories played a significant part in this year’s grand gala and how controversy permeated the grand event.

Although race seemed to be a theme in the broadcast with host Chris Rock doing his best to highlight that there were no black actors or black films nominated this year, transgender issues were on the radar as well. The transgender themed The Danish Girl played a huge factor in that. If you have read this column, you know about The Danish Girl. Eddie Redmayne was nominated for an Actor in a Leading Role Oscar for playing Lili, an artist torn by the societal norms and restrictions of the early 20th century while trying to transition from male to female. While Redmayne did not win Best Actor, Alicia Vikander won an Oscar for Actress in a Leading Role. Vikander plays Gerda, a painter in the 1920s who wrestles with her course of action when her husband reveals his desire to live as a woman. The film was also nominated for Costume Design and Production Design.


While it’s been well-publicized that the film The Danish Girl introduces film audiences to a transgender pioneer of the early 20th century played by Eddie Redmayne, what is not widely known is that one of his costars is trans in real life. Rebecca Root tells her story in a video featurette and talks about working with Redmayne, and the importance of telling the story of Lili Elbe.


The Danish Girl is one of the few motion pictures in the last decade to feature an LGBT main character since 2005’s Brokeback Mountain. And although Redmayne is one of many Hollywood actors to play a trans character, Root is among the first trans actresses cast to play a cisgender (non-transgender) role.

Nurse Root with Lili.

Nurse Root with Lili.

“I think this will probably be one of the last high-profile transgender roles going to a cisgender actor,” Root told Variety. “As more of us come up through the ranks, the more likely it will be we’ll take these roles.”

It will be interesting to see if Hollywood steps up to the plate and starts casting more transgender people in films to play trans roles or cisgender roles. I don’t know of any movies in the Hollywood pipeline at the moment that tell transgender stories. If there are, I would hope that the filmmakers are being careful to cast it with transgender actors and actresses.

Another issue that may arise someday soon is what would happen should a gender non-conforming or a part time transgender person land a role in a film and is nominated for an Oscar. How would they categorize them. Best Actress? Best Actor? If they are indeed trans, this shouldn’t be an issue. But, with young people rejecting the binary more and more, this may become an issue. Just thinking ahead.

Lady Gaga, a well-known ally for the transgender community with her song Born This Way, performed at the Oscars as well, bringing her own flare and style to the broadcast. She performed a stirring song Till It Happens To You, a song about the evils and dangers of sexual assault and rape, something that every transgender woman should be aware of.


Controversy seems to always follow transgender people. The Oscars were no exception. Anohni, the first transgender performer ever nominated for an Oscar, boycotted the Academy Awards ceremony. The Best Original Song nominee explained her decision in an essay for Pitchfork on Thursday, February 25.

“I am the only transgendered performer ever to have been nominated for an Academy Award, and for that I thank the artists who nominated me,” Anohni, 44, wrote. “I was in Asia when I found out the news. I rushed home to prepare something, in case the music nominees would be asked to perform. Everyone was calling with excited congratulations. A week later, Sam Smith, Lady Gaga and The Weeknd were rolled out as the evening’s entertainment with more performers ‘soon to be announced.’ Confused, I sat and waited. Would someone be in touch? But as time bore on I heard nothing. I was besieged with people asking me if I was going to perform.”


Anohni, formerly known as Antony of Antony and the Johnsons, was nominated for Manta Ray, her collaboration with J. Ralph from the film Racing Extinction.

Maybe Hollywood did not think two transgender films should be in the list of nominees, but the film Tangerine was snubbed by Oscar this year. Tangerine is a 2015 American comedy-drama film directed by Sean S. Baker and written by Baker and Chris Bergoch, starring Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, and James Ransone. The story follows a transgender sex worker who discovers her boyfriend, the pimp has been cheating on her. The film premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2015. It had a limited release on July 10, 2015. The film received positive reviews and was nominated for three Independent Spirit Awards along with other awards.

Lining up a shot with the iPhone.

Lining up a shot with the iPhone.

This film is more in line with what the transgender community wants out of Hollywood, two transgender women playing transgender roles. While The Danish Girl was a bigger budget, period piece that Oscar so adores, Tangerine was a gritty, low budget film that was actually shot on three iPhones with some special equipment. Each of the films has it merits, but the more authentic one was Tangerine. The film should have been nominated for at least technical awards, but Oscar snubbed it altogether.

Would this have ruined Chris Rock’s race-themed material? If Kitana and/or Mya would have been nominated, one could not say that there were no black actresses nominated. Hmm, what a pickle the Oscar Academy had.  Critics and industry people say that Tangerine may be a breakthrough for transgender actors and actresses. So, perhaps, the cast and crew of Tangerine have the last laugh. I encourage people to watch The Danish Girl and Tangerine and judge for themselves. I enjoyed Tangerine more because it was lighter and funnier, but The Danish Girl is a must-see for any transgender person. It shows that in general attitudes toward transgender people haven’t changed much in 100 years. Hopefully this will start changing rapidly. These films will help that along.

That’s all for now for this Special Oscar Edition of  Trans Media Arts. It’s time for the after-parties. So go out and hobnob with Leo and Eddie and Sly Stallone. You made it through the night without tripping over your dress. Time to let loose in a slinky black dress and some diamond studded strappy pumps for the after-partying.

[Music swells]

[Hostess curtsies]

[Hostess exits stage left]

[Titles up]

[End show]

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About the Author ()

I am a transwoman originally from Pittsburgh, PA. I have been living full time for 5 years. I work in retail but am an artist/Graphic Designer and aspiring writer. I tend to address the controversial in my writing. I would love to change the world one article at a time. I moved to The San Francisco Bay Area to start over, again. But recently moved back to the East Coast. The adventure continues...

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