This Way In: An Introduction
I am excited to dive into this year’s films with you, from the perspective of their chances in featuring in the Oscar race. Because more than ever LGBTQ+ and horror films need a platform and more voices to back them. My hope is for this site to emphasize such films. But first, here is a little bit about me and a timeline of events that ultimately led me to launch the site.
My curiosity about the Oscar race began in 2001 after I graduated from college. I had just moved to New York City, where I still live today, from Buffalo, NY, and my neighbors were planning an Oscar viewing party. I was surprised to learn that they had pulled out all the stops, with a red carpet extending down the hall and outside of our building, and guests dressed to the nines! All this juxtaposed against the backdrop of the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, where it was not uncommon to find a smoldering hearse amidst crumbling warehouse facades the morning after it had been stolen and taken for a joyride. Up until then, I was a casual watcher of the Oscars, i.e., I would watch, but it did not have my rapt attention. It took witnessing my neighbors’ unbridled passion for the night to get my mind racing: what was it about the Oscars that caused them to go to such lengths? And how did A Beautiful Mind beat The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring for Best Picture? Unfortunately, those questions would have to wait.
By 2005, I had carved out my own space in New York, I was gainfully employed and worked as a freelance music journalist on the side, when the Oscars came calling again. I was living in the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn, in a sweet pad that I shared with my bandmate and a few others. It was the first time in a long time that I shared space with a group of people who were financially stable and so it was easy to spend free time watching and discussing films and playing music. Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby, a drama based on short stories by F.X. Toole (aka fight manager/cutman Jerry Boyd), which follows determined underdog Margaret "Maggie" Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) who works relentlessly with a curmudgeonly boxing trainer to become a professional, was up for Best Picture that year and I remember wanting to see it so bad, but I was held back by anxiety that made me question whether I could handle certain films. Most often, I erred on the side of caution and avoided any film that made me feel that way. I also relied on friends to screen things for me in advance.
One day in March before the Oscars, I found myself walking around the Union Square area with a friend in search of a movie to watch. I kept vacillating on whether I could handle Million Dollar Baby, but when I had finally resolved to see it, it was sold out. Of course, now that would not have been a problem because you can just point and click for your tickets at most theaters. We found ourselves at the Angelika Film Center and decided to watch Park Chan-Wook’s Cannes Grand Prix winner Oldboy, based solely on the poster. But back to the Oscars, naturally Million Dollar Baby won as did its director, star Swank, and supporting actor Morgan Freeman. I finally did see and loved MDB, as I came to call it, not too long after. It became one of my favorite films for its rags-to-riches underdog tale. Also up for Best Picture that year was Sideways, Alexander Payne’s romantic dramedy about two men who embark on a road trip through California's wine country to celebrate one of the men’s upcoming nuptials. The film was essentially a complete 180 from MDB, and on paper, wasn’t the kind of thing I would normally be interested in, but much like 2002, I had to know: how was it that these diametrically opposed films found themselves squaring off against one another? I saw the film with my two roommates and loved it. I remember thinking at the time that the only thing that could’ve made the film better is if I were drinking wine while watching (imagine that!) I ended up buying both MDB and Sideways at Blockbuster (remember those?) and had my chance.
I decided to see all the films that were nominated for Best Picture that year, but I also set an impossible goal to see all the past and future Best Picture nominees. As I began this quest, I quickly realized that one thing I most appreciated about films were the performances, so I changed the rules: see all the Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Actor nominees. My goal had become even more unattainable, but I didn’t care! On my lunch break I cobbled together a list and printed it out. I took it home and for the longest time, I would check off the films on my list. Over time, it sunk in that I would never realize my goal, but I was content with spending my days seeing as many of the films as possible. That is, until the summer of 2008, when everything changed.
My friend and I used to eat lunch together in my office. One day, we were talking about the upcoming films of the year, Baz Luhrmann’s Australia and David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button among them. I simply couldn’t wait to see those two films, and I wanted to read about them immediately. I happened on the now defunct Oscar watch site incontention.com, which was run by Kris Tapley. From then on, I would spend my lunch hour reading about the films that might feature in the Oscar race. Tapley went on to work for HitFix and then Variety, but he had always mentioned other Oscar watchers, one of whom caught my eye: Sasha Stone of AwardsDaily. I had always been partial to women, so I soon found myself making time in my Oscar feeding frenzy to read AwardsDaily. It was through the discovery of Oscar prognostication that I got what I really wanted: the Oscars all year round.
I began hosting Oscar viewing parties in 2005, and in 2010, I upped the ante. After a few years of regular party guests asking me to host a dressier affair, I decided to do a black-tie Oscar viewing party. Back then I used to attend AMC Theatres’ Best Picture Showcase, which allowed audiences to watch all the nominees in two day viewing blocks with a single-priced ticket. Never mind that I had already seen most of the nominees, it was just a fun experience to share these films with my friends. One of my favorite films of 2010 was Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, which was also a bit of a quest to see. My friend and I had originally planned to see it at Chelsea Cinemas, but it sold out, so we quickly found another theatre showing the film and got tickets over the phone. The theatre was entirely silent for the duration of the film, and I remember feeling that we were part of something special. I was ecstatic when the film along with another favorite District 9 were nominated for Best Picture, and again, showing my partiality towards women, even more so that Bigelow was nominated for Best Director – only the fourth woman in history. When Bigelow won Best Director, I was floored, I knew that she deserved it, but deserving an Oscar is hardly why someone wins one. I was ecstatic because she was the first woman to win (and sadly the only one to this day). The Hurt Locker went on to win Best Picture that night, the icing on the cake!
In anticipation of the Oscar race, I began assembling a weekly email blast where I wrote short descriptions of notable articles and links to movie trailers from websites such as incontention.com and AwardsDaily.com along with my own short film reviews and called it “This Week in Movie News” (the blast continued until May 2013). In 2011, I began writing an Oscar watch column titled For Your Consideration for The Rockefeller University’s newsletter Natural Selections, and soon after I became the Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor of the publication until I stepped down in 2018 to take on a leadership role in the LGBTQ+ employee resource network (ERN) at my work. To this day, I have a role as Editor-at-large for Natural Selections and I am one of the Co-Leads for the LGBTQ+ ERN. Five years ago, I began running a Fantasy Oscar League where participants select contenders (actors and actresses) and are awarded points based on how they perform during precursor awards all season until a winner is determined on Oscar Sunday. For too long, the LGBTQ+ film community has been ignored, or overlooked, when it comes to recognition from Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). The last gay director to win Best Director was John Schlesinger in 1969 for Midnight Cowboy, and Lee Daniels was the last gay director (and first LGBTQ+ African American) to be nominated for Precious (2009). Furthermore, a lesbian has yet to be nominated in the category. There is also a disproportionate number of straight directors who have been recognized by AMPAS for work that involves an LGBTQ+ character. Below is a complete list of LGBTQ+ films from the past 20 years that have been nominated by the Academy in at least one category, I have identified the sexual preference of the director from information available. Out of the 39 films nominated, overwhelmingly 26 were from straight directors (including *four women), 10 from gay directors, two of whom are featured twice (so the number of individual directors who have been recognized is 8), 2 from the same bisexual man (so again the number of individual bisexual directors is 1), and only 1 film from a lesbian.
Out of these same 39 films, only 13 were nominated for Best Director, 8 of which were helmed by straight directors, compared with 5 by LGBTQ+ directors, of whom one was nominated twice, making the number of LGBTQ+ directors recognized by the Academy 4. Furthermore, out of these 39 films, only one director, Ang Lee has won, i.e., in twenty years of Academy history, only once has a director won for a film covering LGBTQ+ subject matter and he was straight.
Aside from the damning numbers, the sad thing is there wasn’t an excuse for the omission of LGBTQ+ filmmakers in six of those years. Below is a list of LGBTQ+ films from the same period that represent notable snubs by the Academy. Out of the 7 films, overwhelmingly 5 were from LGBTQ+ directors (including one woman) whereas only 2 were from straight directors. Films with an asterisk represent films that were nominated for Best Picture; three of the remaining four should have been nominated for Best Picture: Far From Heaven, Carol, and The Danish Girl. Note the first two are from the same gay director.
Finally, when you consider other LGBTQ+ films that were released during the same period, there are seven that were completely ignored (films that were in the precursor awards conversation) by the Academy. Again, most of the directors were straight (5), with only 2 from LGBTQ+ filmmakers.
This is to say that the Academy has a lot of work to do when it comes to giving proper recognition to both LGBTQ+ stories and LGBTQ+ filmmakers. What we have seen so far is that when it comes to equality, diversity, and inclusion, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, i.e., the African American community used #OscarsSoWhite in 2015 to engender change in the Academy in response to a lack of diversity in its nominees for the 87th Academy Awards, which has set it on a path of course correction. Below is a timeline of the Academy’s diversification efforts since then:
June 2015: Invited 322 new members
January 2016: After a continued lack of diversity in its nominees for the 88th Academy Awards, the Academy vowed to double its number of diverse members by 2020 and announced changes designed to curb non-active members from voting.
June 2016: Invited 683 new members
January 2017: The nominees of the 89th Academy Awards reflected more diversity, with seven people of color acknowledged across the acting categories.
June 2017: Invited 774 new members
January 2018: The nominees of the 90th Academy Awards, included four people of color in the acting categories.
June 2018: Invited 928 new members
January 2019: The nominees of the 91st Academy Awards, included six people of color in the acting categories.
June 2019: Invited 842 new members
January 2020: The nominees of the 92nd Academy Awards, included two people of color in the acting categories – the lowest since it began its campaign to diversify.
June 2020: Having surpassed the goal it had set for diversifying its membership, the Academy announced the next phase of its equity and inclusion initiatives, which will see a return to the ten Best Picture nominee lineup in 2024 and a 12-year term limit on its Board of Governors. The Academy also invited 819 new members.
September 2020: Just this month, the Academy announced a new set of representation and inclusion standards that must be met for a film to be eligible for Best Picture.
Even so, some are still griping about the most recent changes, including actress Kirstie Alley who tweeted: “I’ve been in the motion picture Academy for 40 years. The Academy celebrates freedom of UNBRIDLED artistry expressed through movies. The new RULES to qualify for “best picture” are dictatorial .. anti-artist..Hollywood you’re swinging so far left you’re bumping into your own ass” So how does it get better? I believe the Academy’s steps are important, but I also believe we need more websites such as this one to amplify important stories and foster change. I have stood on the sidelines, watching other films and performances, etc., lifted to the upper echelons of film, opening doors of near-limitless possibility for the nominees, leaving others to scrape by, hoping one day their dreams too would be realized. It is my hope that by providing a platform that emphasizes LGBTQ+ and horror films, they will gain better traction and establish a foothold to lift them into the Oscar race. In the coming days, I'll examine some current LGBTQ+ and horror films that could feature in this year's Oscar race, including Ammonite and Antebellum and reflect back on some that didn't such as Carol, Gone Girl, and Us.
In truth, I don’t know what this site will become, but I am eager to watch it evolve organically, and believing that my writing can never be divorced from who I am, I will imbue the site with pieces of me that will ultimately coalesce to define the site.
#AcademyAwards #Oscars #LGBTQ+