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Studios & Straight Actors Who Won Oscars For LGBTQ+ Stories, Where Are You Now When 'Monica' Needs You?

Studios & Straight Actors Who Won Oscars For LGBTQ+ Stories, Where Are You Now When 'Monica' Needs You?

Trace Lysette in Monica
IFC Films

The Oscar campaign for Monica and Trace Lysette has been lacking mainstream support, which is ironic, and very disappointing.

simbernardo

We’re not surprised, but we are disappointed.

Remember when the entire industry gasped and clutched their pearls when Brokeback Mountain lost the Academy Award for Best Picture to Crash back in 2006? Or when, over 10 years later, presenters misread the card and announced La La Land as the winner of Best Picture in 2017. Producers rushed to the stage to make a correction: it was Moonlight, not La La Land, that won Best Picture – thank gawd! We saw so many shots of attendees exhaling in relief and basically patting themselves on the back for rooting for the right film, for the queer film. There was a similar feeling in the room when, in 2023, the whacky, wonderful, and queer-inclusive Everything Everywhere All At Once did a clean sweep on most of the top-line Academy Awards.

Also in 2023, Brendan Fraser’s big Hollywood comeback was solidified when he won an Oscar for Best Actor for his performance of a gay man in The Whale. This isn’t a new thing, of course. As far as Oscars for actors go, Sean Penn won for playing Harvey Milk in the Milk biopic. Jared Leto won for playing a trans character in Dallas Buyers Club. Rami Malek won for playing Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. Benedict Cumberbatch was nominated for The Imitation Game, Eddie Redmayne for The Danish Girl, Timothée Chalamet for Call Me By Your Name… the list goes on, really, but we’re trying to highlight just the more recent examples.

While it is admittedly less common, this has also been the case for a few straight-presenting actresses who played queer women in film and were celebrated for their performances at award shows – from The Kids Are All Right to Carol to Everything Everywhere All At Once to Tár.

All the films and performances mentioned before did deserve the recognition and critical acclaim that they received. However, it is incredibly frustrating to see that actual LGBTQ+ actors telling their own stories are rarely – if ever – met with the same level of enthusiasm, praise, and monetary investment.

It was only a few months ago that Trace Lysette had to launch a GoFundMe campaign to afford a publicist who could help her campaign for her groundbreaking performance in Monica. This was after Lysette received an 11-and-a-half-minute standing ovation following the film’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival, breaking a record for the event.

When the campaign for Monica and Lysette was finally able to start, the actress made it clear how confusing this moment in her career felt. “I had questions about what that [standing ovation] meant for me,” Lysette told PRIDE in an interview. “I went to the bathroom stall after we left the theater and I just cried by myself for at least five minutes. What you hope it means is that it means safety for the larger trans community. (…) When this standing ovation happened, it left a lot of question marks in the air for me, and I was trying to make sense of all of them at the same time.”

As we get closer to awards season and see all of these expensive For Your Consideration (FYC) campaigns making the rounds, we can’t help but wonder why Monica – and Lysette’s performance in it – isn’t receiving all this energy, all this money, and all this goodwill that we’ve seen for so many actors who portrayed LGBTQ+ characters in movies that led to Oscar nominations and trophies. Why isn’t Lysette in the “Actors on Actors” series? Will Lysette be invited to the “Lead Actress Roundtable”? Are podcasts about award contenders booking Lysette for interviews?

Here we have a trans actress playing a trans woman in a trailblazing film. A lead actress, who happens to be trans, giving the performance of a lifetime. A gorgeous movie, like Monica, featuring a legendary actress like Patricia Clarkson playing Lysette’s mother. So why does it constantly feel like such an uphill battle for this movie and this performance to be considered by major publications and Hollywood insiders just like the other great movies and performances of 2023? Just like the other critically acclaimed queer films that stacked nominations and awards in recent years?

This week, Lysette became the fifth-ever out trans actor to be nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for her performance in Monica. This is the first and, so far, only major nomination that her performance has received.

In an interview with Out, Lysette talked about the fact that she hasn’t seen “a single ad for Monica yet, so it’s all been word of mouth. It’s been a fight.” She added, “I’m happy the Spirit Awards didn’t let this one fall through the cracks. Hopefully, the other award shows will become aware because we deserve to do more than just survive, we deserve to thrive.”

Trace Lysette in Monica

IFC Films

There’s a world where we are literally on the verge of having Lysette become the first-ever trans woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. But that’s only possible if the industry rallies around Monica the same way it’s been doing for so many cis straight actors who have played queer and/or trans characters with the specific intent of gaining awards recognition (and did get it!).

It’s time for major Hollywood players and mainstream industry publications to put their money where their mouth is. In the face of so many anti-trans laws being passed across the United States, queer publications like PRIDE are trying our best to push forward as we believe in the power of art, culture, and representation. But are y’all listening? And do you see us?

There’s still time for this story of hard work and perseverance to have the happy ending that it deserves.

Views expressed in PRIDE’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of PRIDE.com or our parent company, equalpride.

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Bernardo Sim

Editor

Bernardo Sim is experiencing the queer pop culture multiverse. Born in Brazil, he currently lives in South Florida.

Bernardo Sim is experiencing the queer pop culture multiverse. Born in Brazil, he currently lives in South Florida.