Queer Eye on the Oscars
In the wake of the 'slap' heard around the world, the most disheartening issue in the various conversations on social media was watching otherwise seemingly intelligent people denigrate and berate others based on their own personal ideas of what committed relationships 'should' look like. I was immediately saddened as I listened to people use the most draconian belief systems to belittle anyone who did not live according to their visions of romantic love.
As I consider the grassroots fight for LGBTQIA+ rights and the recent passing of the so called “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida, how horrific must it be to witness the media push a narrative escalating the heteronormative toxicity of our society while also drowning out the voices of everyone else. The issues of masculinity and homophobia are that much more toxic and oppressive in the Black community. Usually cloaked within religious rhetoric, the plight of Black queer artists is sometimes paved with marginalization and exclusion. This type legislation is problematic as it promotes hostility and ostracism. Our communities can no longer afford to discount anyone nor should we. We must develop spaces that not only cultivate creatives but also provide secure areas that encourage personal growth.
Personal growth leads to artistic expression. Expressions of artistic genius fuels our intellectual advancement. The Academy should invest in such endeavors. There were extraordinary highlights for the queer community of color to be proud of during this season’s awards show. Ariana DeBose became the first openly queer woman of color to win and accept the Supporting Actress award for her performance in “West Side Story”. Her acknowledgment of her Afro Latina roots and how she found her strength through her art was refreshing and heartwarming. Her presence embodies the value that flourishes when the initial investment in human beings is made and sustained. However, Oscar history has not been kind to Black talent and to be Black and queer, well, it has not been easy. Though strides are being made, change doesn’t seem to come fast enough. For every advancement, there are legislators determined to take the masses backward.
The bill signed into law by Governor DeSantis is already being considered for duplication in Ohio and Texas. Along with the egregious Redistricting directly affecting voting rights, this type of legislation puts more restrictions on an already difficult area of discussion. Hiding behind what is being dubbed “Parental Rights in Education” bill, legislators are using a hot button wedge issue to gas light parents and vilify teachers. This affects students’ ability to resource needed assistance when speaking with their parents fails to yield a successful pathway to open discussion, safe environments and healthy resolutions. Add the lack of funding for various arts programs in schools and Covid-19 variants still spreading rapidly, it seems a dim reality for future artists. This reality could have devastating results in mental health for young people, especially middle and high school students. How could this reality impact future awards shows? Who will enforce such legislation? How deeply will the Florida bill ripple throughout the nation?
Walking through the red carpet of history, according to the article The Reckoning’s Top Eight Black LGBTQ Oscar Moments by Darian Aaron (thereckoningmag.com/3.22.2022) Hattie McDaniel won the coveted prize yet her alleged bisexuality has not ever been addressed. Ethel Waters became the second Black woman nominated for an academy award and the knowledge of her living with her partner Ethel Williams was another low key Hollywood secret. It seemed, for a while, that in order to be successful in Hollywood Black people not only had to navigate being Black but to be queer could be a death nail for one’s career. We are fortunate that artists like Raven-Symone, Cynthia Erivo and writer Tarell Alvin McCraney persevered. We are all the better for their effort and representation.
There is something inherently wrong with a whole faction of people targeting others due to gender identification. To have the power to disenfranchise teachers in spaces where students build trust is diabolical. This is not to say parents’ rights are to be ignored. In an ideal world, teachers and parents work as a team to educate the whole child. The current environment makes parents hostile toward teachers and that reality is manifesting in school board meetings and elections.
There have been strides in the movement for human rights and Hollywood. However, when the lens is sharp, the Academy Awards offer a closer look into how various mediums and the representation therein affect how we see the world through television and movies. Legislation that is intended to preserve the power of cis male, white imperialism in a time when Black and other people of color are at the precipice of making the space for themselves that is long overdue can only lead to chaos and disaster. On top of that, the very legislators pushing the ‘my body, my choice’ mantra are the same ones stripping everybody of their rights.
Now is the time for the Academy to invest in the people and groups in states like Ohio, Texas and Florida that are already fighting the good fight while also providing space for art to thrive. This is the hard community work that needs the investment on all levels. This is the level of community that offers safe spaces for those students who cannot speakto anyone at home but has a teacher, mentor or counselor they can rely on for a listening ear and sage guidance. These type bills are meant to disrupt those connections and safety bonds. We all have to show up and work together to overcome the toxic takeover being orchestrated by governors like the one threatening people’s rights in Florida. Speaking with the loved ones in my life directly affected by this poorly written legislation, one thing is constant, every human being wants to be heard, seen and respected. It is that simple. Let’s do our part to identify and uplift those voices in our communities standing in the gap for equity and inclusion. Let’s embrace our queer loved ones and do our part to preserve and expand human rights. Period. This is not debatable. It is the right thing to do.
From the cast of FAME to The Color Purple to Moonlight, Black queer voices span our culture, art and history. We must build infrastructures of humanity that make space for and support every human life. Our artists are our witnesses and archivists of the society, of the culture, we must vote, advocate and confront our legislative representatives. We must voice our objections to these draconian legislative maneuverings. Here’s to hoping next awards season we can celebrate some legislative victories for justice and equity as well as see more diverse and inclusive policies in Congress and Hollywood.