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Queer Oscar Nominees: Part II
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The Academy

Last week we shared a brief watch list to help kick off Pride month, but six queer titles weren’t nearly enough. We’re back with a few more—ones that spotlight LGBTQ+ artistry, romance, regret, genius, and bravery.

1
Gods and Monsters (1998)
1998
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You might have noticed that while there are many queer characters appearing onscreen these days, there are also many cisgender, heterosexual actors playing those parts. This is an issue that Hollywood is only beginning to reckon with, really, but that makes Ian McKellen’s performance in Gods and Monsters especially ahead of its time. To this day, it remains the only Oscar-nominated performance recognizing a queer actor playing a queer character. In Gods and Monsters, that character is real-life Hollywood director James Whale, the filmmaker behind Bride of Frankenstein who somehow managed to live life in the early 20th century as an out gay man.

2
Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
1999
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It’s hard to imagine having a more powerful feature film debut than Kimberly Peirce’s Boys Don’t Cry. After learning about the brutal rape and murder of 21-year-old transgender man Brandon Teena, genderqueer director (and eventual Academy governor) Peirce spent years researching and writing a film that would bring the issue of violence against trans people closer to the mainstream than ever. While 46.5 million viewers watched, Hilary Swank won an Oscar for her performance in Boys Don’t Cry and used he/him/his pronouns when referring to Teena in the acceptance speech, more than a decade before this was common practice.

3
Frida (2002)
2002
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Sexuality is often oversimplified as straight, gay or lesbian in movies, but the life of iconic Mexican artist Frida Kahlo—as portrayed in this eponymous biopic—boldly resists simple classifications. Across her lifelong on-again, off-again marriage to muralist Diego Rivera in the early 1900s, Kahlo was open about her affairs with both men and women. Beyond her bisexuality, she also took pride in bucking gender norms with her art, her fashion and even her grooming. For her portrayal of the bold, surrealist artist, Salma Hayek earned her first Oscar nomination, and gay makeup artist John E. Jackson won an Oscar for his work styling her as Frida.

4
Carol (2015)
2015
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Nominated for six Oscars, Carol is a smart, gorgeous and devastating drama about a forbidden affair between two women in 1950s New York. It reached movie theaters by way of a talented chain of queer creators: novelist Patricia Highsmith (who also wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley), screenwriter Phyllis Nagy (who also adapted Mr. Ripley for the stage) and director Todd Haynes. Carol is by no means Haynes’ first contribution to queer canon. Working backward, he’s also given us the Oscar-nominated Far From Heaven and Velvet Goldmine, and his early ’90s, genre-bending film Poison is considered one of the earliest entries in the New Queer Cinema movement.

RELATED: The Legacy of New Queer Cinema

5
Pain and Glory (2019)
2019
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Colorful, expressive, queer, Oscar-nominated … we could be describing quite a few of Pedro Almodóvar’s movies. But the one we have in mind right now is Pain and Glory, in which Antonio Banderas plays an accomplished director plagued by writer’s block, chronic pain and a newfound heroin dependence. Getting closure from a number of figures in his past is the only way forward, and his tender, serendipitous and universal reconnection with an ex-lover in Madrid is a highlight of the film

But please don’t stop here: Almodóvar’s filmography all on its own would make a splendid Pride month marathon. Across other Oscar-nominated highlights—like Talk to Her, All About My Mother and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown—sexuality and gender identity are at once central and unmentioned.

The director says it best himself: “To be transvestite, gay, heterosexual, transsexual or bisexual has never been a dramatic problem in my films. They are part of my films like they are part of my life."

© 2021 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences