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Why 2018 is a Banner Year for LGBTQ Representation at the Oscars (Guest Column)

The Academy Awards are among the top honors bestowed by Hollywood – a standard of excellence for content and art in the film industry. Which is why “Moonlight’s” historic best picture win in 2017 was such a groundbreaking moment. Not only was “Moonlight” a powerful, groundbreaking LGBTQ story that won the highest accolade possible against the backdrop of an industry that often erases or maligns LGBTQ characters; it was also a story about being black and gay in America – something even more rare in entertainment.

As a member of the LGBTQ community who has spent their entire career in the entertainment industry, “Moonlight’s” win meant a lot to me both personally and professionally. Not only did I value the impact that this win would have for the LGBTQ community, but also what it would mean for the industry overall in terms of representation in film.

Too often, the LGBTQ community’s hopes for more and better representation end up falling short. GLAAD’s 2017 Studio Responsibility Index, which maps the quantity, quality and diversity of LGBTQ people in films released by the seven major motion picture studios, found that only 18% of films include LGBTQ characters. And often, the characters represented can still end up the butt of juvenile jokes or the unfortunate recipients of miserable and loveless existences.

But “Moonlight” winning best picture did something that no other inclusive moment has done for me – it gave me hope that a real change was on the horizon for diverse LGBTQ representation in film. And if this year’s Oscar nominations are any indicator, it looks like my hopes for a better future might be even closer to becoming a reality.

When the 2018 Academy Award nominations were announced, much of the buzz around LGBTQ representation focused on the best picture nomination for “Call Me by Your Name.” But if you take a closer look at this year’s nominees, you’ll find a deep bench of incredible LGBTQ stories and creative talent. Call it (as Entertainment Weekly first did) “the ‘Moonlight’ effect.”

If “Call Me By Your Name,” directed by out director Luca Guadagnino, were to win, it would make 2018 the second year in a row that an LGBTQ-inclusive film nabs best picture honors. The film has opened audience’s eyes to the heart-wrenching struggle some men had to go through during that time – and even now — in order to come to terms with who they were and who they loved. A “Call Me By Your Name” best picture win would further emphasize that audiences and critics alike want to see authentic, nuanced, and moving LGBTQ stories told on screen. “Call Me By Your Name” has also been recognized through nominations for lead actor (Timothée Chalamet), adapted screenplay (James Ivory), and original song (Sufjan Stevens’ “Mystery of Love.”)

A Fantastic Woman,” Chile’s entry (and a frontrunner) in the best foreign language film category, is one of the most exciting LGBTQ film nominations this year. The film tells the story of a transgender woman named Marina, who, after the sudden death of her partner Orlando, is treated with suspicion by doctors, local police, and Orlando’s family. They can only see Marina’s gender identity as an aberration and a perversion, but Marina shows incredible strength and resilience as she fights to honor the man she loved — and who loved her back.

Not only is the film notable for putting a trans character front and center, “A Fantastic Woman” also presents a story that moves beyond the clichéd transition narrative that is so often the focus of trans stories on the big screen. It presents a nuanced portrayal of a protagonist, played by Daniela Vega (a trans actress herself), who brings tremendous authenticity to her character. Her performance and the entire film are, quite simply… fantastic.

In Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” nominated for best picture, Richard Jenkins portrays a gay man in the 1960s who is comfortable in his own skin, during an era when he is unable to live openly. It’s a beautiful role in an imaginative and allegorical tale of love transcending differences that brought Jenkins a best supporting actor nomination.

Who is behind the camera is just as important as who is in front of it. Netflix’s “Strong Island,” nominated for best documentary feature, is directed by Yance Ford, a black transgender man. The deeply personal film explores the impact on his tight-knit family when his older brother was killed by a white man in 1992. While Ford’s gender identity is not front and center in the doc, it is incredibly exciting to see a trans director receive an Oscar nomination and tell other LGBTQ creators that Oscar recognition is possible.

Another Netflix project receiving accolades this year is “Mudbound.” Director Dee Rees, an out lesbian, was nominated for adapted screenplay for her work on film. This makes her the first black woman ever nominated in this category. Rachel Morrison was also nominated for “Mudbound” in cinematography, making her the first woman ever nominated in the category. She is therefore also the first lesbian to receive the accolade. Morrison’s other work includes “Fruitvale Station,” “Cake,” HBO’s “Confirmation” and the blockbuster “Black Panther.”

Additionally, “Coco,” co-directed by Adrian Molina, is nominated in the animated feature category. And Benj Pasek is nominated (along with his writing partner Justin Paul) for best original song for his work on “This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman.” Molina and Pasek are both out gay men.

Beyond this year’s Oscar nominees, GLAAD is recognizing several more incredible LGBTQ-inclusive films as nominees for the 29th Annual GLAAD Media Awards. They include “Battle of the Sexes,” “Lady Bird” (also an Oscar best picture nominee), and “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” in the outstanding film – wide release category. “BPM (Beats Per Minute)” (France), “The Wound” (South Africa], “Thelma” (Norway), and “God’s Own Country” (U.K.) are up against “A Fantastic Woman” in the outstanding film – limited release category.

While Hollywood has always been filled with incredible LGBTQ talent both in front of and behind the camera, 2018 is a banner year for nominees. As LGBTQ storylines move beyond familiar tales of coming out, transition, or discrimination, so too does public understanding of the LGBTQ community – something that matters more than ever in our current political climate.

And when creativity comes from a place of authenticity, films resonate with audiences. Come Oscar night, expect several of these nominees to become winners; awarded the honor of thanking their collaborators, supporters, partners, and families from one of the biggest stages in the world. And that is certainly something worth celebrating.

Call it “the Moonlight effect,” indeed.

Jeremy Blacklow is the Director of Entertainment Media at GLAAD.

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