FROM ROB: Acting Within the Lines

Written by | Columnists and Letters

The first academy awards were handed out 87 years ago. Though much has changed since then, at least one thing remains the same: We’re still handing out awards to “Best Actors” and “Best Actresses.”

FROM ROB: Acting Within the Lines

When we look back at 2015, it was an interesting year when it comes to portrayals of the LGBT community on film, but it’s still worth asking: In a world where gender is growing more fluid and gay love stories feature more than one “leading lady,” should we still be rewarding people along the same old lines?

In this post–Caitlyn Jenner world, many of us have taken time to question stereotypes about what gender is and what it means to be transgender. This year, Hollywood tackled that issue prominently in The Danish Girl, which stars Eddie Redmayne in one of history’s earliest recorded trans people. While the film definitely underlines the period’s phobia about those who don’t conform to traditional gender roles, does it do a good job exploring its main character’s transition? Yes, Redmayne turns in an impressive transformation, but would producers have done Lili Elbe’s memory more justice by casting a trans actor in the role? If a trans actor had played the role, would it be up to the Academy to decide whether the individual would compete for “Best Actor” or “Best Actress”? And if Redmayne wins Best Actor, do we add “playing trans” to the list of Oscar bait — along with playing the mentally or physically challenged or roles that require unfortunate prosthetic noses?

Another of the year’s most widely acclaimed films is Carol, which features a lesbian affair between Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett. If Carol were about a man and woman falling in love, they could share equal glory — gunning for Best Actor and Best Actress. However, Mara and Blanchett will be either forced to duke it out for Best Actress — potentially stealing votes from one another — or one must be demoted to Supporting (à la Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain). Doesn’t this situation essentially undercut the awards chances of almost any movie with a gay romance?

It’s good that we’re seeing more and better films trying to embody the LGBT experience on screen. However, as we tell more complicated stories about gender identity and gay romance, it’s important to look at the awards protocol and to point out ways it may still be confined within the lines of pre-established ideas and stereotypes.

Last modified: October 13, 2017