You might think that in a year when the Academy Awards have been under fire for lacking diversity, the powers that be would ask the first trans performer nominated for an Oscar to take the stage at some point during Sunday’s ceremony. Even if Hollywood remains transphobic for the foreseeable future, even if no one attending or behind the scenes of the Oscars speaks out about trans discrimination or educates themselves about trans issues or strikes up a friendship with a trans person or ends up liking trans people even in the abstract, having a trans performer onstage would be a feather in the cap, a way of deflecting criticism and saying, “Hey, look—we actually can be inclusive (even if we don’t think much of black people in the industry).” At the very least, it would be a good PR move.
Guess what the Oscars didn’t do? (You know where this is going.) They didn’t invite ANOHNI, the only transgender performer to be nominated for an Oscar (and one of, like, two transgender people to be nominated for an Oscar in history) to take the stage during Sunday’s ceremony. ANOHNI (whose work you may know from when she performed under the name Antony Hegarty, of Antony and the Johnsons, before she was out as trans) is nominated in the Best Original Song category for writing the lyrics to “Manta Ray” from the documentary Racing Extinction. Of course, not every nominee in every category is asked onstage, but many nominated for Best Original Song are, given that the producers like to have musical performances break up all the talking and there is limited opportunity to do so given the nature of what’s being celebrated.
I am the only transgendered performer ever to have been nominated for an Academy Award, and for that I thank the artists who nominated me. (There was a trans songwriter nominee named Angela Morley in the early ‘70s who did some great work behind the scenes.) I was in Asia when I found out the news. I rushed home to prepare something, in case the music nominees would be asked to perform. Everyone was calling with excited congratulations. A week later, Sam Smith, Lady Gaga, and the Weeknd were rolled out as the evening’s entertainment with more performers “soon to be announced.” Confused, I sat and waited. Would someone be in touch? But as time bore on I heard nothing. I was besieged with people asking me if I was going to perform.
Though ANOHNI and her “Manta Ray” duet partner J. Ralph were not asked to sing their nominated song, Lady Gaga, the Weeknd, and Sam Smith will perform their nominated songs. Additionally, the ceremony will feature a “special performance” from non-nominee Dave Grohl. To clarify her interpretation of the snub, ANOHNI writes:
I want to be clear — I know that I wasn’t excluded from the performance directly because I am transgendered. I was not invited to perform because I am relatively unknown in the U.S., singing a song about ecocide, and that might not sell advertising space. It is not me that is picking the performers for the night, and I know that I don’t have an automatic right to be asked.
But if you trace the trail of breadcrumbs, the deeper truth of it is impossible to ignore. Like global warming, it is not one isolated event, but a series of events that occur over years to create a system that has sought to undermine me, at first as a feminine child, and later as an androgynous transwoman. It is a system of social oppression and diminished opportunities for transpeople that has been employed by capitalism in the U.S. to crush our dreams and our collective spirit.
Amen. ANOHNI’s resolution is one that seemingly more and more are coming to this year: boycott. She concludes:
So I have decided not to attend the Academy Awards this election year. I will not be lulled into submission with a few more well manufactured, feel-good ballads and a bit of good old fashioned T. and A. They are going to try to convince us that they have our best interests at heart by waving flags for identity politics and fake moral issues. But don’t forget that many of these celebrities are the trophies of billionaire corporations whose only intention it is to manipulate you into giving them your consent and the last of your money. They have been paid to do a little tap dance to occupy you while Rome burns. These are the last days of a great American fake-out sponsored by ExxonMobil, Walmart, Amazon, Google, and Philip Morris. America, a country that is no longer contained by physical borders, aspires only for more power and control. I want to maximize my usefulness and advocate for the preservation of biodiversity and the pursuit of human decency within my sphere of influence.
Fuck the fucking Oscars.