The past decade has been a breakthrough for queer representation at the Oscars—onscreen, onstage and in production. It’s been a long time coming, so we’re assembling a series of watch lists of notable LGBTQ+ characters and actors, films and filmmakers nominated at the Oscars. They're perfect for any time of year, but feel free to dive into the first edition just as Pride month begins.
Daniela Vega’s fierce performance is the indisputable anchor of this colorful, hypnotic drama, winner of the Oscar for International Feature Film. Vega plays Marina, a young trans woman living in Chile whose older boyfriend dies suddenly from a brain aneurysm. As she tries to get his affairs in order and figure out what’s next, Marina endures slights and injustices from hateful family and prejudiced authorities. Stunning, stylistic interludes in the film help to visualize Marina’s internal states of discouragement, defeat and also resilience.
There’s no world in which Barry Jenkins’ beloved gay coming-of-age masterpiece doesn’t make it onto this list of queer and inclusive Oscar achievements. For one thing, Moonlight’s intimate, three-part structure makes Chiron’s internal struggle unforgettable. As he tries to navigate an abusive, homophobic culture, we get a visceral, impactful experience of what it’s like to come to terms with one’s sexuality over time. And then there’s all the history that was made: Not only was Moonlight the first distinctly LGBTQ+ film to win Best Picture, but it was also the only one with an all Black cast, Joi McMillon the first Black woman nominated for Film Editing, and Mahershala Ali the first Muslim to win an acting Oscar.
Decades before Gus Van Sant dramatized the life and assassination of activist Harvey Milk, gay documentary filmmaker Rob Epstein won an Oscar for doing so with archival footage in The Times of Harvey Milk. Five years later, with Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt, Epstein won Best Documentary feature yet again. Both docs were pioneering and impressively contemporary: The former was released just a few years following Milk’s assassination. More on the latter next ...
Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (along with the one-of-a-kind memorial quilt project that it highlights) helped to amplify the severity of the AIDS crisis as it was happening. A restored version, preserved by the Academy Film Archive in partnership with Outfest, premiered in 2019.
Rachel Morrison was not only the first lesbian to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography—she was the first-ever woman to do so. Morrison’s gorgeous visuals depict the natural beauty of 1940s Mississippi, but also its racism and inhumanity. Following her nomination, Morrison has worked on Black Panther and Seberg.
His films aren’t all that gay in subject matter, but legendary director George Cukor holds the distinction of being the first gay (albeit somewhat closeted) director nominated for an Oscar—all the way back in 1933. He went on to accumulate five Directing nominations (that’s as many as Alfred Hitchcock!) thanks to a prolific career that spanned decades and included: the first talkie adaptation of Little Women; the quintessential movie musical My Fair Lady; and the second iteration of A Star Is Born, with Judy Garland headlining. Offscreen, Cukor’s lavish Beverly Hills home functioned as a safe house and weekly social hub for the industry’s gay subculture, in a time when it wasn’t acceptable (or even legal) to be queer.