With the 93rd Academy Awards approaching, it’s safe to say that the most memorable moments of 2020 didn’t have much to do with the movies released this year. The nominees seem to lack the LGBTQ+ themes that have been on the rise in recent years.
There are some astounding queer films that have earned Oscar recognition in previous years, breaking film barriers by representing LGBTQ+ stories on a large scale. Through these movies, we see that representation is vital; it has the power to give people a voice and educate others about the human experience.
The Freddie Mercury biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” took home four Oscar awards in 2019. Three of them were in technical categories: Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. The movie featured Rami Malek’s vocals with Mercury’s, providing performances that felt both authentic and accurate to the original singer. Undoubtedly, the film’s incredible recreation of Queen’s 1985 Live Aid performance made the movie deserving of the editing and sound awards.
A first-time Oscar nominee, Malek, who played Mercury, took home the award for Best Actor. In his heartfelt acceptance speech, Malek connected his own experience as the son of an immigrant to Mercury’s identity, saying that Mercury lived his life as a gay immigrant unapologetically.
“The fact that I’m celebrating him and this story with you tonight is proof that we’re longing for stories like this,” Malek said.
Many recall the infamous slip-up where “La La Land'' was announced as the Best Picture winner for the 89th Academy Awards, only to be corrected just moments later. “Moonlight”was the first LGBTQ+ film to win Best Picture, not to mention the first winner featuring an all-Black cast. Additionally, it also took home the award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
The film follows a young man named Chiron and his difficulties with identity and sexual orientation as a Black man growing up in Miami. We see significant moments of his life as a young boy, a teenager and eventually as an adult, exploring Black masculinity through Chiron’s struggles.
Mahershala Ali, who played Chiron’s father-figure Juan, won the award for Best Supporting Actor; he was the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar. With queer People of Color historically left out of the mainstream, the movie’s Oscar success showed the importance of highlighting the experiences of minorities, specifically gay Black men.
Perhaps the most well-known gay film of the 2000s is “Brokeback Mountain,” which tells the story of two cowboys named Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis (Heath Ledger) navigating their complex emotional relationship in the ‘60s and ‘80s. The film received the Academy Awards for Best Director (Ang Lee), Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score; it was infamously snubbed for Best Picture by the movie “Crash.”
As one of the first mainstream portrayals of an explicit same-sex relationship between two men, the film received homophobic criticism alongside its acclaim. Before his tragic death in 2008, Ledger was known for defending the movie, going so far as refusing to present at the 2007 Oscars because of a joke about “Brokeback Mountain”in the opening monologue. In an interview with the fashion magazine Another Man, Gyllenhaal reflected on Ledger’s decision.
“That’s the thing I loved about Heath. He would never joke,” Gyllenhaal said. “Someone wanted to make a joke about the story or whatever, he was like, ‘No. This is about love. Like, that’s it, man. Like, no.’”
These influential movies have only scratched the surface of the stories that still need to be told in the mainstream. Transgender people still aren’t adequtely represented; when they are, they’re played by cisgender actors, such as Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of trans woman Lili Elbe in “The Danish Girl.”
We can still look at these films as foundational to LGBTQ+ representation. Their impact on society has definitely been for the better. Looking ahead, there is a world of queer stories still waiting to be told.