Our Five 21st Century LGBT Acting Nominees

With this years number of gay roles being nominated within the acting categories totalling 7, I felt it was worth doing some digging in to the difference between roles played by gay actors and their nominations compared to straight actors for LGBT roles. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that the stats don’t weigh in favour of LGBT performers. From the 380 nominations (in the 4 acting categories) since the year 2000 we have only seen 5 nominees that are part of the gay community. That ain’t a great stat especially when you consider that this year alone SEVEN acting nominations were earned from playing LGBT characters. Let’s first take a look at the 5 nominees we have been able to see since the turn of the century.

2001 – Ian McKellen (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)

Category: Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Role: Gandalf the Grey, a powerful wizard who brings together the fellowship to help destroy the One Ring.

Was It Gay: No, unless you are doing a lot of subtext reading about his relationship to Saruman but that is one big ol’ stretch.

2007 – Ellen Page (Juno)

Category: Best Actress in a Leading Role

Role: Juno MacGuff, a teenager who struggles with teenage life and struggles become even harder when she falls pregnant and must figure out what to do.

Was It Gay: No, this is a very heterosexual character going through the very heterosexual problem of teen pregnancy.

2008 – Angelina Jolie (Changeling)

Category: Best Actress in a Leading Role

Role: Christine Collins, based on a true story of a mother who when reunited with her missing son, discovers it is not him.

Was it Gay: No, this is a focused crime thriller about a mother and son(?) relationship.

2016 – Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)

Category: Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Role: Patrick Chandler, a child whose father has recently passed away and whose drunk and emotionally unstable uncle is tasked with caring for him.

Was it Gay: No, Patrick has multiple female partners in this film but no hint of any gay relationships.

2018 – Lady Gaga (A Star is Born)

Category: Best Actress in a Leading Role

Role: Ally Maine, aspiring singer who is plucked out of obscurity by rockstar Jackson Maine and they develop a wild and turmoil filled relationship.

Was it Gay: No, a very heterosexual relationship in this one.

When you break the nominees down like this, it shows just how few roles that LGBT actors are offered from their own community. The true stories of gay activists, historical figures and icons are given to straight actors to show how ‘Brave’ they can be as performers. It’s not always the case that these performances are offensive, Brokeback Mountain, Can You Ever Forgive Me? and The Favourite have all been highly praised by members of the LGBT community. But it is interesting to see how few award worthy roles about LGBT characters are given to actors from that same community. Daniela Vega is a recent example of a trans actress who was playing a trans role in the Best Foreign Feature winning A Fantastic Woman and the film was a success mostly due to her fantastic performance which should have been nominated for best lead actress.

Another point I feel worthy of discussion is with regards to the status the 5 nominees above found themselves in during the time they were nominated. For McKellen, Gaga and Jolie they were all very established as performers before these nominations and their sexuality was common public knowledge before nominees were announced (links have been included in each actors name to details of their coming out). When you come to Page and Hedges however they were both still young actors at the time of their nomination and neither had publicly declared their sexuality. Since then Ellen Page has spoken of her struggles to be cast in straight roles and Hedges recently starred in Boy Erased as a gay teenager caught in conversion therapy in which during the press tour he spoke of his more fluid views on his sexuality. Is there still a stigma around what is seen as award worthy LGBT acting, where only the juiciest roles are given to the straight actors who can show their skill? Why are actors like Jared Leto, Eddie Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch given heartbreaking stories of hardship from the LGBT history books while members of the LGBT community struggle to get auditions for such roles?

With the announcement of Olivia Colman’s win for Best Actress in The Favourite at this years BAFTAs, we saw all four of the acting categories feature winners playing gay characters. Widen this further to the Oscar nominations and all seven of the nominated gay roles are played by straight actors. Performances from both The Favourite and Can You Ever Forgive Me? have been highly praised but the same can’t be said for the performance of Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody which has seen the film hit multiple rocky stretches along this award season run. For Bohemian Rhapsody the controversy of alleged peadophile Bryan Singer being the films primary director has soured any love for Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury. However, the performance itself has serious problems with regards to the demonising the gay community as being the downfall of Freddie while his straight laced bandmates and loving ex wife, Mary Austin, are angels ready to save him from his homosexual, sinful ways. For an icon of the gay community that Freddie Mercury represented, to see his image bastardised is a crying shame and we can only hope for a future film made without the looming figures of his ex bandmates hanging around to make sure they are shown in a preferential light.

I will however leave you on one of the big positives that this year’s BAFTAs provided us. That being the videos from twitter user @lgbtdisney of The Favourite stars, Olivia Colman and Rachel Weisz proclaiming “Gay Rights!” Because while the struggle for actors is still going on for them to secure the roles and nominations, we are at least seeing the characters brought to screen with a little more nuance than we have previously experienced. Progress is small right now but maybe things will get better. If we see a win for Lady Gaga on the 24th February it will be the first win for a gay/bisexual actor since 1999 and hopefully a big step forward.