I’m Selina, Awards Circuit’s queer Girl Friday for everything LGBTQIA+ on TV! Each week, I take on some of TV’s biggest stories through the rainbow lens, and this week started off with a bang as all eyes turned to the Dolby Theater for the 90th Academy Awards. This year featured the most diverse group of nominees in recent memory, with numerous LGBTQIA+ winners and presenters; but not all was well in mainstream TV, as RuPaul revealed his out-dated views on potential contestants for “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Buckle up folx, because this week featured high-flying triumphs and some complicated woes for the LGBTQIA+ community.
LGBTQIA+ Folx Make Waves at the Oscars
Adam Rippon Slays the Red Carpet
The first thing to make an impression was the Oscars’ attendees fashion choices. Several of America’s newest batch of Olympians walked the red carpet alongside the stars of Hollywood, but figure skater Adam Rippon in a leather harness was the true standout amidst the deluge of tepid suit ensembles. The below tweet’s caption explains it best:
Adam Rippon is wearing a Jeremy Scott harness to the Oscars. Somewhere in heaven, Oscar Wilde, Harvey Milk, James Baldwin, and Michelangelo just shared a margarita.
Adam Rippon is wearing a Jeremy Scott harness to the Oscars.
Somewhere in heaven, Oscar Wilde, Harvey Milk, James Baldwin, and Michelangelo just shared a margarita. pic.twitter.com/4hoDyP3sgd
— Chris Rovzar (@Rovzar) March 4, 2018
Iconic. In a sea of penguin suits, Rippon honored our community (and gagged everyone in the process).
Daniela Vega and “A Fantastic Woman” Win Big
Next up was the winners themselves, with Sebastián Lelio’s “A Fantastic Woman” snagging the award for Best Foreign Film. The film follows trans singer Marina (Daniela Vega) as she struggles with discrimination from doctor and police, along with anger from her lover’s ex-wife after he passes away. A few moments later, Vega was back on stage to introduce Sufjan Stevens’ performance of “Mystery of Love,” a song from “Call Me By Your Name” nominated for Best Original Song. The actress is the first openly trans person to present an award at the Oscars and acknowledged it during her speech, saying “Thank you so much for this moment” before introducing Stevens.
According to THR, the film might even help the trans community in Chile, as President Michelle Bachelet continues to push for a new bill that would give trans folx the right to legally change the name and gender on government-issued I.D.s. Bachelet fast-tracked the bill and invited the film’s creative team to the presidential palace, where she congratulated the filmmakers and Vega for the historic win (“A Fantastic Woman” is the first Chilean film to receive the Oscar for Best Foreign Film).
James Ivory Wins for “Call Me by Your Name” Adapted Screenplay
Though Stevens did not end up with the Oscar for Best Original Song (which ultimately went to “Coco’s” “Remember Me”), the gay coming-of-age romance “Call Me By Your Name” still earned an Oscar that night. James Ivory, the openly-gay writer who adapted André Aciman’s novel for the silver screen, won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Ivory, the oldest Oscar winner ever at the age of 89, thanked Aciman and his “life’s partners, who are gone,” along with reminding us, “Whether straight or gay or somewhere in between, we’ve all gone through first love, I hope, mostly intact.”
‘Coco’ Filmmakers Give Awesome Acceptance Speeches
But the moment that moved me most during the ceremony was an acceptance speech from the creators of “Coco,” which earned the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film. Adrian Molina, Coco’s co-director, and producer Darla K. Anderson thanked their same-sex spouses and Mexico in a heartfelt ode to the “endless beautiful culture and traditions” of the country. The film, which followed a young Mexican boy’s journey through the Land of the Dead, is a Pixar-Disney children’s movie, a fact the filmmakers also acknowledged:
“With Coco, we tried to take a step forward toward a world where all children can grow up seeing characters in movies that look and talk and live like they do,” Coco’s director Lee Unkrich said. “Marginalized people deserve to feel like they belong. Representation matters.”
While the Oscars are ultimately a celebration of the year’s best films, their real power is in their stories, on the screen and behind the scenes. When a child sees a female filmmaker thank her wife in an acceptance speech, or a gay writer earn an Oscar for adapting a gay teen romance, or a trans actress get the recognition she deserves, the world becomes a little brighter, a little more hopeful. Having that kind of representation will change the lives of the younger generation for the better, and this year’s Oscar winners lend momentum to the push for a kinder, more inclusive world.
RuPaul Causes Uproar With Exclusionary Views About Trans and Bio Drag Queens
And then there’s RuPaul. The rainbow glow from Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony disappeared when Mama Ru’s interview with the Guardian hit the internet, revealing some incredibly outdated opinions about contestants for his show “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” RuPaul revealed that he “probably wouldn’t” have admitted trans drag performer Peppermint last season if she had gender-affirming surgery before the show, even though contestants have often had other types of plastic surgery. Bio-queens, drag performers who are cis women, are also unlikely to get on the show, as RuPaul says:
“Drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it, because at its core it’s a social statement and a big f-you to male-dominated culture. So for men to do it, it’s really punk rock, because it’s a real rejection of masculinity.”
Fans and former “Drag Race” contestants were quick to disagree with RuPaul, with Willam Belli noting that “[denying opportunities] because of someone’s narrow-mind view on what they call ‘drag’ is fucked.” As Vox notes, cis performers who do drag make it clear that what they do is a performance, an exaggerated version of the opposite gender they don’t identify within their personal lives. But for trans drag performers, drag is a way to express themselves and their gender in a space that welcomes them. Attempting to exclude anyone from the drag scene is hurtful and dismisses its history, which has been shaped by trans, non-binary and cis performers. Drag is for everyone, and putting limitations upon drag performers is counter-intuitive to drag itself.
RuPaul issued the below tweet in response to the backslash, comparing hormone therapy to steroid use in sporting events (aka, cheating):
You can take performance enhancing drugs and still be an athlete, just not in the Olympics. pic.twitter.com/HkJjzXzUGm
— RuPaul (@RuPaul) March 5, 2018
It did not go over well. Past contestants and “Drag Race” winners, including reigning queen Sasha Velour, continued to throw support behind trans and bio queens, leading to a complete walk-back of the interview:
Each morning I pray to set aside everything I THINK I know, so I may have an open mind and a new experience. I understand and regret the hurt I have caused. The trans community are heroes of our shared LGBTQ movement. You are my teachers. pic.twitter.com/80Qi2halN2
— RuPaul (@RuPaul) March 5, 2018
In the 10 years we’ve been casting Drag Race, the only thing we've ever screened for is charisma uniqueness nerve and talent. And that will never change. pic.twitter.com/0jsyt6MRvO
— RuPaul (@RuPaul) March 5, 2018
The flag RuPaul included in the second tweet, by the way, is not the trans flag. Looks like somebody googled the trans pride flag and accidentally typed in “trains.” An honest mistake, but not the best apology one could make. What do you think of RuPaul’s comments and the reaction from “Drag Race” fans and fellow drag performers?