This year’s Oscars just ain’t making many friends at the moment.
Amongst the necessary and damning conversations of blatant whitewashing, there was another story unfolding and that was the brief glimmer of potential in when Anohni, the current solo project of Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons was nominated for best song for her performance of ‘Manta Ray’ from documentary Racing Extinction.
It brought a smile to my face to not only see a performer of such incredible talent receive a nomination, but also see that the vigilant discussion of visibility and opportunity for transpeople was a least starting to crack through. Hegarty became the first transgender performer to receive an Oscars nomination, though not the first transgender person to be nominated with composer Angela Morley receiving a nomination in the mid-70s. Despite mixed emotions of being happy but also critical of how rife ciswashing is that we’ve only had two transgender people nominated within the last 50 years, it seemed the story would halt there until the winner was called.
However, the revelation that music nominees are regularly invited to perform at the awards ceremony and the subsequent strange announcement that showed not only a lack of Anohni in the announced performers (as well as Sumi Jo and her song ‘Simple Song #3’) but also that Dave Grohl would be performing caused people to conclude that Anohni was being deliberately left out of the live performances.
Yes we’ve heard the well worn justification of ‘time constraints’ before and it’s not the first time performances have been canned, but it does seem icky that the two ‘lesser known’ acts, one of which who is the second trans person to ever be nominated and therefore represents something important, are being omitted for the sake of Dave Grohl and his humdrum rock-by-numbers music.
Well it obviously isn’t sitting well with Hegarty either, who penned a scathing essay first published on her website announcing her decision to not attend the Oscars.
“Last night I tried to force myself to get on the plane to fly to LA for all the nominee events, but the feelings of embarrassment and anger knocked me back, and I couldn’t get on the plane. I imagined how it would feel for me to sit amongst all those Hollywood stars, some of the brave ones approaching me with sad faces and condolences. There I was, feeling a sting of shame that reminded me of America’s earliest affirmations of my inadequacy as a transperson. I turned around at the airport and went back home.
As if to rub salt into the wound, the next morning the Oscars added that I was transgendered to the trivia page of their website.”
The essay is brilliantly articulated and touches on so much. Such as, she understands that it might be because she is lesser known in the States that The Academy chose to not include her in the performances, however it is of no detriment to the ceremony and in fact is nothing but advantageous to a lesson known performer to be made a part of the proceedings.
“At the age of 35 I was awarded the UK’s Mercury Prize. All the nominees were invited to perform that night. They lifted me from obscurity and celebrated me, setting off a chain of events that changed my life forever.”
It is supposed to be about celebration right? I mean that should be all there is to an awards ceremony, celebrating all the involved parties’ achievements and congratulating the nominated ‘best of the bunch’ with a pretty paperweight and podium to thank their mums. And yet, here we are with an opportunity to celebrate and promote the work of a marginalised person and The Academy opts for this ‘dude over here who’s not even nominated because…ratings’?
It’s disappointing to say the least, and I say this coming from my privilege of a being a cis-white-woman. As a trans-woman Hegarty must carry a far heavier weight, and she acknowledges that while she knows she isn’t being excluded from the live performances because she is transgender, it still results in a systematic oppression that ends up shaping the industry into a unwelcoming environment for people who “occupy a place outside of the mainstream.”
“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 US to crush our dreams and our collective spirit.
I was told during my 20s and 30s there was no chance that someone like me could have a career in music, and this perspective was reiterated by so many industry “professionals” and media outlets that I lost count. I almost gave up.”
Since Hegarty published the piece there have been many who have voiced their support of her boycott online, and The Academy have yet to remark on the situation. Read the full essay below.