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LGBT representation strong at 90th annual Academy Awards

Screenwriter James Ivory accepts ‘Call Me By Your Name’ award; ‘Fantastic Woman’ wins foreign language prize



DANIELA VEGA at the Academy Awards Sunday night. (screen capture courtesy ABC)

Despite a bloated presentation that clocked in at almost four hours, the telecast of the 90th Academy Awards had some spectacular moments, especially for LGBT movie fans.

The big moment came when “A Fantastic Woman” won the award for Best Foreign Language Film, the first Oscar win for he country of Chile. Directed by Sebastián Leilo, the movie centers on Marina Vidal (Daniela Vega), a trans woman who is kicked out of her apartment when her boyfriend suddenly dies. Vega’s moving performance marked a cinematic milestone—a trans woman being payed by a trans actress in a mainstream movie.

The award was presented by veteran actress and LGBT icon Rita Moreno (now appearing in the Netflix reboot of the classic sitcom “One Day at a Time” which now features a lesbian character and is set in a Cuban-American household). In the most fabulous entrance of the evening, Moreno strutted to the microphone wearing the same dress she wore to accept her Academy Award for “West Side Story.”

Vega made even more cinematic history when she became the first openly trans person to be a presenter on the Oscar stage (appropriately enough, she introduced Sufjan Steven’s performance of his song “The Mystery of Love” from “Call Me By Your Name”). She acknowledged the importance of her appearance on the Oscar stage, saying, “Thank you so much for this moment.” She also encouraged the audience to “open your heart to love.”

Sadly, the trans director Yance Ford did not win for his documentary “Strong Island.”

Openly gay screenwriter James Ivory (“Maurice”) also made Oscar history when he accepted the prize for Best Adapted Screenplay for “Call Me By Your Name,” the only award for the film. The 89-year old Ivory became the oldest person to win an Academy Award. In a touching speech he mentioned his late collaborators Ismail Merchant (who was also his life partner) and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.

In another noteworthy development, after Disney’s “Coco” won the award for Best Animated Feature, no one commented when two members of the creative team (producer Darla K. Anderson and co-writer and co-director Adrian Molina) thanked their same-sex spouses. In the past, such declarations of LGBT love would have made headlines.

In addition, “Coco” director Lee Unkrich underscored a major theme of the evening when he said, “Marginalized people deserve to feel like they belong. Representation matters!”

Perhaps this means Tio Oscar and Tio Felipe were a gay couple after all.

“Coco’s” lovely ballad “Remember Me” took home the Oscar for Best Original Song, beating out the power ballad “This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman” written by the gay-straight duo of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. During the ceremony, “This Is Me” (which will undoubtedly be performed at every Pride celebration this summer) was given a powerhouse performance by cast member Keala Settle. Settle also appeared in a commercial for Walmart that was actually part of the ceremony.

“The Shape of Water,” a queer celebration of community and resistance, was nominated for 13 Oscars (the most nominations this year) and won four: Best Picture, Best Director (Guillermo del Toro), Best Score for Alexandre Desplat and Best Production Design. Richard Jenkins, who played the heroine’s next-door neighbor and gay best friend did not win, nor did his co-stars Octavia Spencer and Sally Hawkins.

While the creative team behind “The Shape of Water” gathered the most statues, no movie dominated the evening. “Dunkirk,” “The Darkest Hour” and “Blade Runner 2049” won several of the design awards (and Gary Oldman won Best Actor for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in “The Darkest Hour”). Not surprisingly, Mark Bridges won Best Costume Design for his sumptuous couture designs in “Phantom Thread.”

And in an unexpected moment, a very surprised Jordan Peele won Best Original Screenplay for his powerful horror film, “Get Out.”

ARMIE HAMMER and TIMOTHEE CHALAMET at the Academy Awards Sunday night. (screen capture courtesy ABC)

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” won acting honors for Frances McDormand (Best Actress) and Sam Rockwell (Best Supporting Actor). McDormand’s acceptance speech was a call to action. She asked all the women in the audience to stand and be recognized and she called on everyone to demand “inclusion riders” in their contracts. (Inclusion riders are clauses that require that film crews meet minimum diversity standards to retain the services of the artist.)

Several major movies surprisingly went home empty-handed, including: “Lady Bird,” “The Post” and “Mudbound,” which was directed by the ground-breaking Dee Rees, an out black lesbian.

In what may have been the funniest moment of the very long telecast filled with lame jokes, Mark Bridges (Best Costume Design) won the Jet Ski that host Jimmy Kimmel promised to the winner who gave the shortest acceptance speech, Bridges cam in at 38 seconds.

A full list of winners is here.



PHOTOS: Baltimore Pride in the Park

Annual celebration featured vendors, performers



(Washington Blade photo by Linus Berggren)

Baltimore Pride in the Park was held at Druid Hill Park on Sunday, June 16.

(Washington Blade photos by Linus Berggren)

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PHOTOS: “Portraits”

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington performs at the Kennedy Center



A scene from "Portraits," as performed in a technical rehearsal at the Kennedy Center on Saturday, June 15. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington performed “Portraits” at the Kennedy Center on Sunday, June 16.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Sophie Zmorrod embracing life on the road in ‘Kite Runner’

First national tour comes to Eisenhower Theater on June 25



Sophie Zmorrod (Photo courtesy of Zmorrod)

‘The Kite Runner’
June 25 – 30
The Kennedy Center

Newly single, Sophie Zmorrod is enjoying life on the road in the first national tour of “The Kite Runner,” Matthew Spangler’s play with music based on Khaled Hosseini’s gripping novel about damaged relationships and longed for redemption. 

“It’s a wonderful time for me,” says Zmorrod. “I’m past the breakup pain and feeling empowered to explore new cities. A lot of us in the cast are queer, so we figure out the scene wherever the show goes.” 

What’s more, the New York-based actor has fallen in love with the work. “I love how the play’s central character Amir is flawed. He is our antihero. He has faults. As a privileged boy in Kabul, he bears witness to his best friend’s assault and doesn’t intervene. He lives with that guilt for decades and gets that redemption in the end.” 

“He does what he can to right wrongs. For me who’s regretted things, and wished I could go back in time, it resonates. Watching someone forgive themselves and do the right thing is beautiful.” 

Via phone from Chicago (the tour’s stop before moving on to Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater on June 25), Zmorrod, whose background is Lebanese, happily chats about sexuality, ethnicity, and acting. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Looking at your resume, I see you’ve been cast in roles traditionally played by men. And have you played queer characters? 

SOPHIE ZMORROD: Oh yes, both. Whether or not they’re written on the page as queer, they sometimes turn out that way. And that holds true for this show too.  

With “The Winter’s Tale” at Trinity Rep, I played Leontes — the king who banishes his wife — as a woman. So, in that production it was about two women and touched on the violence that women sometimes inflict on other women.

And there was Beadle Bamford in Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” also at Trinity Rep; I played him as a woman who was masculine and wore a suit. It was a great opportunity to explore myself and gender expression. That was a really good experience. 

BLADE: Are you an actor who’s often be called in for queer roles? 

ZMORRAD: Not really. I’m what you might call straight passing. Sometimes I’ve had to advocate for my queerness. To be a part of something. 

Similarly with my ethnicity. I’m called in to audition for the white and Arab roles. It gets tricky because I’m not the exactly the white girl next door and I’m not exactly Jasmine from Disney’s “Aladdin” either. 

This is one of the reasons, I really want people to come see “The Kite Runner,” Audiences need to experience the reality of the wide diversity of Middle Eastern people on the stage. We’re all very different.

And not incidentally, from this 14-person cast, I’ve met some great people to add to those I know from the Middle Eastern affinity spaces and groups I’m connected to in New York.

BLADE: In “The Kite Runner” what parts do you play?

 ZMORRAD: Three characters. All women, I think. In the first act, I’m an elderly eccentric pomegranate seller in the Afghan market, waddling around, speaking in Dari [the lingua franca of Afghanistan]; and the second act, I’m young hip and sell records in a San Francisco market; and at the end, I’m a buttoned-down American immigration bureaucrat advising Amir about adoption.

BLADE:  Your training is impressive: BA cum laude in music from Columbia University, an MFA in acting from Brown University/Trinity Repertory Company, and you’re also accomplished in opera and playwrighting, to name a few things. Does “The Kite Runner” allow you to flex your many muscles? 

ZMORROD: Very much. Playing multiple roles is always fun for an actor – we like malleability. Also, there are instruments on stage. I like working with the singing bowl; it’s usually used in yoga as a soothing sound, but here we save it for the dramatic, uncomfortable moments. I also sing from offstage. 

We are creating the world of the play on a very minimal set. Oh, and we do kite flying. So yeah, lots of challenges. It’s great. 

BLADE: It sounds like you’re in a good place both professionally and personally.

ZMORROD: It’s taken a long time to feel comfortable. But I’m on the journey and excited to be where I am, and who I am. 

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