entertainment

Oscars diversity debate: The LGBT history of the Academy Awards

2016-01-27
Following the furore surrounding a lack of diversity at this year's Academy Awards, Sir Ian McKellen spoke up to point out that no openly gay actor has ever won any of the big prizes. He's correct of course, but the LGBT history of the Oscars isn't as simple as that. Many actors have been nominated, and even won, before they came out, and of course the stories of LGBT characters have lit up the silver screen for many decades now; despite the fact that they have all been portrayed by straight actors. We take a look back through this colourful history, as a reminder of the stars and films the LGBT community should take pride in. Queer Prize for the Straight Guy In the past 30 years, there have been at least eight portrayals of LGBT characters which have won the main prizes for the straight actors who took them on. tom-hanks-oscars Possibly the earliest Oscar win for portraying a gay character was William Hurt for Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985) in which he played a man imprisoned for having underage sex. However, the role which proved to be a real breakthrough for the gay community was Tom Hanks in Philadelphia (1993), in which he played a lawyer suing the firm who sacked him for having AIDS. It was a pivotal moment for educating people on the disease, and saw a huge shift in actors feeling comfortable with taking on gay roles, after he won the Best Actor prize for the part. By the late 1990s, it was the turn of the girls. Hillary Swank gave a memorable, exceptional performance as Brandon Teena in Boys Don't Cry (1999) - a real life trans man who had been killed in a 1993 hate crime - for which she won Best Actress. aileen-wuornos-charlize-theron-in-monster Charlize Theron won Best Actress for playing notorious American serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster (2003). She brought an empathy to Wuronos (a prostitute who was executed for murder), in part through her same sex affair with a character played by Christina Ricci. Sean Penn holds up his Oscar for best actor for his role in "Milk" backstage at the 81st Academy Awards in Hollywood, California Possibly the jewel in the crown of gay roles was Sean Penn's portrayal of gay rights activist Harvey Milk. Milk (2008) allowed him to lock lips with James Franco as well as winning the Best Actor prize. Gay writer Dustin Lance Black also won Best Original Screenplay for writing the film. The same year, Penelope Cruz won Best Supporting Actress for her sexually ambiguous character in Woody Allen's Vicky Christina Barcelona. The most recent example was Jared Leto's performance as a transgender woman suffering with AIDS in Dallas Buyers Club, for which he won Best Supporting Actor, although his casting did provoke anger from the LGBT community who felt a trans actress should have been given the role. dallas-buyers-club-jared-leto-featured With Eddie Redmayne hotly tipped for his role as the first transgender woman in The Danish Girl, and Cate Blanchett earning rave reviews for lesbian drama Carol, 2016 could well be the year that two LGBT stories take the top prizes. Winning in the Closet 94cae6ee9d5062a53f9d1aaa33727e58 A handful of actors have won the major acting prizes, but before they came out. The most high profile is probably Jodie Foster, who won Best Actress twice: once as a gang rape victim in The Accused (1988) and once for her legendary role as FBI student Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs (1991). She finally alluded to her homosexuality (a long known, open industry secret) in a 2013 acceptance speech. joel-grey Looking further back, Broadway star Joel Grey took the Best Supporting Actor for his turn as Emcee in Cabaret (1972), although he didn't come out as gay until as recently as 2014. Equally, actress Linda Hunt - now openly gay - won Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Year of Living Dangerously (1983), in which she played a male Chinese-Australian dwarf. No, really... The Best of the Rest... Gods-and-Monsters-Ian-McKellen Ian McKellen may have been the only openly gay actor to miss out, when he was nominated for Gods and Monsters (1998) and The Lord of the Rings (2001), but one of the most memorable performances that missed out on the big win in recent years was Ellen Page's breakout role as a pregnant teenager in Juno (2007). She later came out as gay in 2015. sxofej1zyw782enkdkmvb8zrmiq Psycho star Anthony Perkins was nominated for Best Supporting Actor way back in 1956 for Friendly Persuasion. He died from AIDS in 1992. Meanwhile, it would appear that British born John Schlesinger was the only gay director ever to win an Academy Award, which he did for Midnight Cowboy (1969). Gay songwriters are well represented in the Best Original Song category. Winners include Liza's first husband Peter Allan who won with 'Arthur's Theme' (1981), Stephen Sondheim who won for the Madonna performed 'Sooner Or Later' from Dick Tracy (1991) and Elton John who wrote 'Can You Feel The Love Tonight' for The Lion King (1994). Perhaps the most prolific songwriter was Disney lyricist Howard Ashman, who won for The Little Mermaid's 'Under The Sea' (1989) and 'Beauty and the Beast' (1991), which was awarded posthumously following his death from AIDS. elton-john-and-tim-rice-1403186553-view-0 Needless to say, a list of actors and actresses who were - and are - rumoured to be gay would require a whole other feature... More stories Six of the Oscars' campest Best Actress speeches Stephen Sondheim: Lady Gaga's performance at the Oscars was a travesty