‘Tangerine’ Actresses Could Make Oscar History In Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress Race
The Oscars may not be until February, but the race is heating up with each passing weekend of new releases. Every week ScreenCrush will analyze the Oscar race using predictions, critical reactions, and box office numbers to gauge which titles will be the most remembered come awards season.
There are a few guaranteed things actors can do to get nominated for an Oscar. They can play someone with a disability or a disease, go to method extremes (oh hai, Leo), or play a transgender character. The only problem is, every major transgender role in a mainstream film has been played by a cisgender actor, or an actor who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth.
Hilary Swank's portrayal of Brandon Teena in Boys Don't Cry won her the Oscar. Jared Leto's turn as (the fictional) Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club won him the Oscar. Felicity Huffman's performance in Transamerica and John Lithgow's in The World According to Garp earned them Oscar nominations. And now, Eddie Redmayne could take home his second Best Actor statue for his portrayal of trans pioneer Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl. These wins and nominations of course come with criticism and backlash, but much of it is directed at the films and industry itself for failing to cast trans actors. Luckily, Sean Baker has changed that and now it’s making ripples all the way to the Academy's red carpet.
Baker’s Tangerine opened to raves earlier this year, garnering attention as being the movie shot entirely on an iPhone, but also a movie that cast two trans women. The film follows two sex workers and best friends over the course of Christmas Eve at a Hollywood intersection as one lie after another culminates in an explosive finale. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, two real-life best friends and nonprofessional actors who met Baker at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, give startling performances as Sin-Dee Rella and Alexandra, respectively. With their electric screen presence and the winding, invasive tracking shots (remember, it was shot on three iPhones with an $8 filmmaking app), Tangerine is a film that's hard to look away from. While it seems impossible a little film like this with a budget under $200,000 and first-time actors could get the Academy's attention, that may not be true.
Magnolia Pictures and the Duplass brothers who produced the film have already launched an awards campaign behind Tangerine in what Variety says is the first time a distributor has ever backed transgender actresses for awards season. That alone is monumental, but now Slate is reporting both actresses will be eligible as women for voting. An anonymous source from the Academy claims both Rodriguez and Taylor will be considered for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress in the nomination process. This will mark the first time trans women are eligible for Oscar consideration, and if either does make it into the race, it will be the first time a transgender person gets nominated for an Oscar. Although no policy has been written for the Oscars' eligibility, Tangerine may change that, setting a groundbreaking precedent for the future of awards season. The Television Academy has already paved the way, making Laverne Cox the first openly trans woman to receive an Emmy nomination. Now it's just time for the film industry to catch up. But can the Tangerine stars actually get nominated?
So far, Rodriguez and Taylor have already been nominated for Lead Actress and Supporting at the Independent Spirit Awards. While Tangerine earned four Spirit nominations, another film that will likely sweep the actress categories at the Oscars took the lead. Todd Haynes' Carol received six Spirit nominations this week (tied with Beasts of No Nation) and may just take home both Oscar actress awards for stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. But the rest of the competition is just as tough. Beyond Blanchett, the Best Actress race is also being led by Brie Larson for Room, followed by Jennifer Lawrence for Joy and Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn. That last spot is a bit uncertain at the moment. It could go to Lily Tomlin for Grandma, Charlotte Rampling for 45 Years, Carey Mulligan for Suffragette, Emily Blunt for Sicario or maybe Charlize Theron for Mad Mad: Fury Road. As far as Supporting, Mara will likely go head-to-head with Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl with the remaining slots likely being taken by Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs), Joan Allen (Room), Jane Fonda (Youth), Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight) or Elizabeth Banks (Love and Mercy).
It would be surprising and pretty unlikely for Rodriguez or Taylor to beat out any of the well-known names above. But the victory of getting their names on the voting ballots alone is something worth celebrating. In a few years we might see an end to cis actors taking home prizes for portraying trans characters. Maybe even we’ll soon see a trans actor take home an Oscar for playing a non-trans part. Now that would be progress.