“Tangerine,” Sean Baker’s Sundance darling about two transgender prostitutes on a Christmas Eve jaunt through Los Angeles, might not seem like your typical Oscar movie. But against the backdrop of the Emmys recognizing Laverne Cox’s performance in “Orange is the New Black” in 2014, Magnolia Pictures and the Duplass brothers, who produced “Tangerine,” are launching an Oscar campaign for the indie, Variety has learned. It’s the first time a movie distributor has ever backed an awards season push for a transgender actress in Hollywood history.
In fact, “Tangerine” features two breakout transgender stars. Magnolia will be trumpeting newcomer Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in the best actress category and Mya Taylor, who Baker met at a LGBT center just as she was transitioning, for best supporting actress.
The scrappy campaign — which is forgoing traditional “For Your Consideration” advertising — will officially kick off on Tuesday night, during an Academy conversation with the Duplass brothers, where Jay and Mark will show a clip from the film. Magnolia plans on sending “Tangerine” screeners to the actors branch of the Academy, as well as cinematographers (the movie was shot on an iPhone 5s) and screenwriters, in a bid to gain heat for the script, which Baker developed with his actresses and co-writer Chris Bergoch.
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“Jay and I are new to the Academy, so we’re just figuring this whole thing out,” Mark Duplass tells Variety. “One thing that has become apparent to us as we look at this stuff, it seems that the TV Academy has embraced what’s happening in the trans movement with ‘Transparent’ and ‘Orange is the New Black.’ We feel that the film Academy is a little behind on that front.”
Although movie characters who are transgender have been rewarded with Oscar nominations, including Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club,” Hilary Swank in “Boys Don’t Cry” and Felicity Huffman in “Transamerica,” all the actors behind these performances are cisgender. “This is the time for it,” Duplass says of the Academy nominating a transgender actor for playing a transgender part. “We’re in the middle of a civil rights movement.”
Adds Eamonn Bowles, the president of Magnolia Pictures, which acquired “Tangerine” out of Sundance in January: “The trans aspect will undoubtedly garner the film attention, but frankly the best strategy is to get as many voters to see it as possible,” he says. “It stands alone among the contenders in its tone, aspirations and achievement.”
When “Tangerine” opened in July in limited release, it received strong reviews, despite a box office tally of only $700,000. The Duplass brothers hope to get the word out for “Tangerine” by inviting friends to tastemaker screenings in Los Angeles and New York, starting in November. Jay also has close ties with Hollywood’s transgender artists through his role as the son on Amazon Studios’ “Transparent.” “We’re in this community of filmmakers who share movies,” Mark says. “When we find a movie that we love, we share it with them. We haven’t done that inside the Academy yet. But Jay and I will do a lot of the legwork ourselves — ‘Hey, we love this movie. We think it’s special. Will you watch it and show it to your friends?'”
Mark thinks it’s only a matter of time before the Oscars recognize a transgender actor. “Maybe we’re not the first one to get a trans actor nominated,” he says. “It’s not a loss if we don’t. This is a long play in our minds.”