Arts·My Favourite Season

Get ready for another big gay Oscars season — but this time with a very welcome twist

Only one openly LGBTQ actor has ever been nominated for a lead LGBTQ role (Sir Ian McKellen in 1999). That's almost certainly about to change.

Only one openly LGBTQ actor has been nominated for a lead LGBTQ role. That's almost certainly about to change

Collage of still images from the films All Of Us Strangers, Rustin, and Nyad.
Left to right: Andrew Scott in All Of Us Strangers, Colman Domingo in Rustin, Jodie Foster in Nyad. (Searchlight/Netflix/Netflix)

My Favourite Season is a monthly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that runs through the six-month "season" that is both his favourite and Moira Rose's. It explores all things awards in the lead-up to the big one: the Oscars, which are currently scheduled to take place on March 10, 2024.

As someone who has grown very accustomed to the Oscars failing actual queer people despite us being their most loyal audience, it feels unusual to offer up some very hopeful news about this incoming season. So let me instead start with an unfortunate stat that I've thrown around pretty much every awards season of my adult life: in the 95 years of the Oscars, only one openly LGBTQ actor has ever even been nominated in lead acting category for playing an LGBTQ character.

One.

His name is, of course, Sir Ian McKellen. He was nominated 25 years ago for playing gay film and theatre director James Whale in the 1998 film Gods & Monsters. And not only did he lose the award, but he lost it to Roberto Benigni (an Oscar decision that hasn't exactly aged well).

McKellen doesn't exactly have a lot of company in the supporting categories either. There's Jaye Davidson, who was openly gay when he was nominated for playing a trans woman (Davidson is cisgender, so this isn't exactly an ideal example) in The Crying Game in 1993, and Stephanie Hsu, who was nominated earlier this year for her queer role in Everything Everywhere All At Once. So that makes... just 3 in total.

Compare this to 17 straight actors have won Oscars for playing LGBTQ characters, and it's a beyond ridiculous ratio that seems to just be getting more ridiculous by the year. The most recent Oscars, for example, added 3 more winners to the count for straight actors playing queer characters (although Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis are pretty unique examples since only some of their multiverse characters were queer).

Still frame from the film All Of Us Strangers. Paul Mescal drapes an arm around Andrew Scott, cast in purple and blue lighting.
Andrew Scott (left) and Paul Mescal in All Of Us Strangers. (Searchlight Pictures)

Look, I'm not even someone who thinks all LGBTQ roles should be played by LGBTQ actors (except the T... those should all be played by Ts). If Cate Blanchett is the best person to play Lydia Tár (as I am certain she was), then let Cate Blanchett play Lydia Tár. But then also maybe rethink some of the casting when clearly there's a queer actor who could do it just as good or better (not to single out Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody, but come on: Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody!). Basically, all I've been asking is for Hollywood to just give the gays some of the Oscar baity gay roles.

And now here's the big twist I was teasing earlier: this year... it seems like they have.

This could very well be the last time I'll ever be able to throw around that aforementioned stat about Sir Ian, because he might finally be getting some company. This awards season is just getting started, and it is looking like it will have no shortage of films that primarily feature LGBTQ characters, if not full-on queer protagonists. Biopics Rustin, NYAD and Maestro, musical adaptation The Color Purple and critical darlings All of Us Strangers and Anatomy of a Fall all qualify as such, and they look like they could get upwards of 7 or 8 acting nominations between them.

Among them are definitely a few straights playing queer, as they do: Annette Bening in NYAD and Bradley Cooper in Maestro, for example. But that's finally just fine by me, because there are also several openly LGBTQ performers who could be nominated alongside them for playing LGBTQ roles.

Still frame from the film Rustin. Colman Domingo raises his arms and grins widely, standing in front of microphones at a podium, with an audience of fellow Black people clapping behind him.
Colman Domingo in Rustin. (Netflix)

There's Colman Domingo, who should have been nominated a few years back for his work in Zola. But this year could more than make up for it, with Domingo having the potential to match Sir Ian McKellen's record of being the only out queer actor to earn two acting nominations (McKellen's other one was for playing Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings) in one clean sweep: he's in serious contention for his performances in both Rustin and The Color Purple.

The former just played at Telluride and Toronto, and reviews pretty much unanimously praised Domingo's portrayal of gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin (even if they were a bit cool on the film itself). The latter hasn't screened yet, but Domingo's role — notably a straight character — is a juicy one that also won't be competing against his work in Rustin since it will be campaigned in supporting. He would become only the 13th actor in history to get two nods in the same year, and to do so while being openly queer. 

There's Andrew Scott, who many of you might still know primarily as "Hot Priest" from the second season of Fleabag. That seems very much poised to change, as the Irish actor (who has been out since at least 2013) is receiving intense acclaim for his work in Andrew Haigh's All of Us Strangers. The film — which debuted at Telluride and currently has the highest Metacritic score of any film set for release in 2023 — stars Scott as a queer screenwriter who begins a relationship with a mysterious neighbour (Paul Mescal). It's not being released in theatres until December, but Scott already seems likely to at least win several critics' prizes, if not go on to an Oscar nomination.

If Scott and Domingo both get nominated for best actor, it will be the first time in Oscar history that two openly gay men are nominated in the category at the same time (not just for playing a queer role, but for any role).

Still frame from the film Nyad. Jodie Foster and Annette Bening lean in to one another, both looking worried.
Jodie Foster (right) and Annette Bening in Nyad. (Netflix)

And then there's Jodie Foster, who is obviously no stranger to the Academy Awards. Foster was nominated for the first time in 1977 for Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver before going to to win best actress in both 1989 and 1992 for The Accused and The Silence of the Lambs. She'd be nominated again in 1995 for Nell, but that was obviously nearly 30 years ago — and long before Foster began her long and complicated road out of the closet.

Some might argue that Foster still isn't quite fully out of that closet, though her 2013 Golden Globe speech reads like enough of a coming out to me (and if that doesn't do it for you, her 2021 Golden Globe speech should). But either way, she is playing a character who is very much openly gay in NYAD: Bonne Stoll, the lifelong best friend (and former lover) of swimmer Diana Nyad (played by Annette Bening). Foster is fantastic in the role, and it's so nice to see her embracing her own queerness on screen. (It is unfortunately of note that the real-life Nyad's history of transphobia — something the film does not get into — makes NYAD a tough film to want to celebrate.)

If Foster were to end up winning, here's refreshing stat that would come with it: she wouldn't be the first openly LGBTQ winner in the best supporting actress category. Ariana DeBose claimed that title in 2022, when she won for playing (the very much straight) Anita in West Side Story.

It still feels a bit depressing that DeBose remains the only out queer performer to win an acting Oscar, just as it does that McKellen is still the only out queer actor to be nominated for playing a leading queer role. But it certainly seems like this awards season has what it takes to help bring a few more gays into the Oscars village.

Check back monthly for all of our predictions for this year's Academy Awards.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Knegt (he/him) is a writer, producer and host for CBC Arts. He writes the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and hosts and produces the talk series Here & Queer. He's also spearheaded the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2010s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films, the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights and the host of the monthly film series Queer Cinema Club at Toronto's Paradise Theatre. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

Say hello to our newsletter: hand-picked links plus the best of CBC Arts, delivered weekly.

...

The next issue of Hi, art will soon be in your inbox.

Discover all CBC newsletters in the Subscription Centre.opens new window

now