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Oscar noms 2020: ‘And the loser is… diversity’

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John Cho and Issa Rae announced the nominees for the 92nd Academy Awards on Monday morning (Image via YouTube)

After 2019’s record year of inclusion for LGBTQ and LGBTQ-themed nominees, it looks like Oscars 2020 has taken a huge step backward.

Announced Monday morning from the David Geffen Theatre at the new, yet-to-be-opened Academy Museum in Los Angeles, the list of nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards contained few surprises, aside from a few notable snubs, but is nevertheless noteworthy not only for a shortfall in LGBTQ inclusion, but also for a general lack of overall diversity.

Of the twenty acting nominees, none identify as LGBTQ, but Margot Robbie, nominated for Best Supporting Actress for “Bombshell,” and Antonio Banderas, who made the Best Actor category for his performance in “Pain and Glory,” both portray LGBTQ characters. Only one acting nominee – Cynthia Erivo, nominated for her starring role in the film “Harriet” – is a person of color (Banderas, who is of Spanish descent, is classified by US Census guidelines as “European”). No women were nominated in the Best Director category, and only one of the nine Best Picture nominees was directed by a woman – Greta Gerwig, for “Little Women.” In addition, the majority of the nine nominated films are dominated by male characters, with only “Little Women,” “Marriage Story,” and “Parasite” featuring women among its central cast. In the two screenplay categories, only two women received nods: Gerwig for “Little Women,” and Krysty Wilson-Cairns for co-writing “1917” with director Sam Mendes. “Pain and Glory,” directed by openly-LGBTQ filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, scored a nomination as Best International Feature.

The lack of diversity in this year’s list of nominations is made even more glaring by several of its omissions:

  • Notably left out of the final cut were Latina actress Jennifer Lopez, who was widely expected to score a nod for her performance in “Hustlers.”
  • Recent Golden Globe winner Awkwafina, the Phillipina-American rapper-turned-actress who starred in Lulu Wang’s acclaimed mixed-language film, “The Farewell,” was shut out of the Best Actress category, and the movie itself failed to score a slot in the Best International Feature category.
  • Former Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o failed to garner a nomination for her strong performance in Jordan Peele’s “Us.”
  • Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite,” which earned the rare distinction of being nominated as both Best Picture and Best International Feature, also failed to earn nods for any of its Korean cast, including Song Kang Ho, who was thought to be a likely contender for Best Supporting Actor.
  • Actor Jamie Foxx, another favorite for his supporting performance in “Just Mercy,” was snubbed in that category.
  • Besides the snub for Gerwig in the director category, strong female contenders Wang (“The Farewell”), Marielle Heller (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”), Lorene Scafaria (“Hustlers”) and Alma Har’el (“Honey Boy”) were all shut out. To date, only five women have been nominated as Best Director – Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”), Lina Wertmüller (“Seven Beauties”), Jane Campion (“The Piano”), Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”) and Gerwig (“Lady Bird”). Bigelow is the only woman to have won the award in the Academy’s 92 year history.
  • Even Beyoncé, considered a shoe-in for a Best Original Song nod with “Spirit” from Disney’s remake of “The Lion King,” was overlooked.
  • Also raising eyebrows was the omission of Eddie Murphy in any category for his well-received Netflix film, “My Name is Dolemite,” or former Oscar-winner Ruth Carter for its costume design. In addition, there was a surprising lack of recognition for the Elton John biopic “Rocketman” or its star, Taron Egerton, which failed to earn nominations for Best Picture or Best Actor despite both having been heavy favorites for inclusion in those categories. “Rocketman” did receive a nomination for John and longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin in the Best Original Song category, for “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again.”

There was an inescapable irony evident in the Academy’s choice of Asian-American actor John Cho and actress of color Issa Rae to announce the nominees at this morning’s event. After the pair read off the names in the Best Director category, Rae quipped, “Congratulations to all those men.”

The film with the most nominations was Todd Phillips’ “Joker,” which received 11 total nods. The first comic book film to lead the race in nominations, Phillips’ movie has been controversial for its portrayal of the iconic “Batman” villain, drawing criticism for glamorizing “incel” culture.

Following “Joker” in total nominations are “The Irishman,” “1917,” and “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood,” with eight each. “Jojo Rabbit,” “Little Women,” “Marriage Story,” and “Parasite” each received six. Each of the leading films are contenders for the Best Picture category.

The nominations are determined by Academy members who vote in their own categories – with actors nominating actors, directors nominating directors, etc. – while the final winners in all categories are chosen by vote from the entire Academy membership. The Oscar presentation will take place on February 9, 2020, to be televised by ABC. For the second year in a row, the ceremony will not have a designated host, but will split hosting duties among individual presenters.

For a complete list of nominations, click here.

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Television

For Gaiman fans, ‘Sandman’ is a ‘Dream’ come true

Netflix series offers fantasy space where all feel welcome

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Tom Sturridge makes a dreamy Morpheus in ‘The Sandman.’ (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

For the millions of fans who have embraced Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” and its darkly beautiful, queer-inclusive mystical universe since it debuted in comic book form more than three decades ago, the arrival of a new Netflix series based on it is a very, very big deal – even if, for the uninitiated, it might be hard to understand why. After all, the streaming giant has already unleashed such a vast array of LGBTQ-friendly fantasy movies and shows that one more, welcome though it may be, hardly seems like anything new.

As any of the above-mentioned fans will quickly tell you, however, “Sandman” is not just any fantasy series. Initiated by DC Comics as a revival of an older comic book of the same name, it was handed over to Gaiman – then still a budding writer of comics with a few promising titles under his belt – with the stipulation that he keep the name but change everything else. The comic series he came up with went on to enjoy a 75-issue original run from 1989 to 1993, an era when an expanded literary appreciation for such works gave rise to the term “graphic novel”, and it joined “Maus” and “Watchmen” among the first few comics to be included on the New York Times Best Seller List. Arguably more important, it also generated a huge and diverse fan following, and its incorporation of multiple queer characters and storylines has inspired subsequent generations of comic book creators to envision new and inclusive fantasy worlds of their own.

Despite that success, it’s taken 33 years for it to finally be adapted for the screen. Beginning in the late ‘90s, attempts were made to develop “The Sandman” for film, but though a few scripts initially managed to win Gaiman’s approval, creative differences inevitably led to a dead end, and the Hollywood rumor mill began to buzz that the story was ultimately “unfilmable” – until 2019, when Netflix and Warner Brothers (parent company to DC Comics) officially reached a deal to bring it to the screen as a series, with Gaiman fully on board and a creative team in place that was determined to faithfully adapt the much-loved original for a contemporary audience.

The show that came from that decision, which premiered on Netflix Aug. 5, makes it clear that the long wait was more than worth it.

“The Sandman” of the title refers to the story’s leading figure – Dream (known also as Morpheus, among other names), one of seven elemental siblings whose mystical realms overlay and intertwine with the human world. As ruler of the dream world, he holds hidden power over all mankind – until a human sorcerer manages to trap him and imprison him on Earth for more than 100 years. Finally freed, he returns to his kingdom to find it in disarray, and he sets out to restore order and undo the damage done – a quest that will require him to enlist the aid of numerous (and sometimes less-than-willing) allies, both human and immortal, to save the cosmos from a chaotic force that has been unleashed in his absence.

Like any good myth cycle, it’s both an epic story and an episodic one, making it a much better fit for the long-form storytelling capacity of series television than for any of the one-off film adaptations that it almost became. In his sweeping, unapologetically allegorical saga of the ever-dueling forces within our human psyche, Gaiman uses broad strokes in composing his plot, recycling and reinventing timeless motifs and themes while relying on our comfortable acceptance of the familiar tropes of myth and magic to get us all on board; the narrative is a massive structure, but it’s not hard to follow the basics. Where “Sandman” becomes complex – and exceptional – is in the details Gaiman gave himself room to explore along the way, the human moments caught in between the monumental cosmic drama. 

It’s these parts of the story that have made his graphic novel iconic, more even than its gothic melancholy or its layered personification of primal forces into complex human archetypes; it’s there, too that he was able to explore a broad and diverse range of human experience, including many queer characters in a time when comic book literature was far from a queer-friendly space. It’s these things that made Gaiman’s comic a touchstone for a wide spectrum of fans – and they would have been the first things that would have been jettisoned had any of the potential “Sandman” films seen the light of day. Because Gaiman has held out for so long to make sure it could be done right, series television has finally given him the chance, as co-creator and co-executive producer (alongside David S. Goyer and Allan Heinberg), to finally make it happen.

The big-budget Netflix production values certainly help, too, allowing the striking visual aesthetic of the comic – in which even the horrific can be exquisitely beautiful – to come thrillingly alive. The show’s many baroque and gruesome deaths bear testament to that, as does a fourth episode sequence when Morpheus’s quest requires him to descend into a Hell that evokes the macabre beauty of Dore’s illustrations for Dante’s “Inferno,” the very landscape itself made up of the writhing and tormented souls of the damned. The artfulness of this show’s scenic design lingers in the memory, appropriately enough, like images from a dream.

Still, it’s all just scenery without the players, and “Sandman” assembles a top-drawer cast capable of bringing Gaiman’s characters to life with the level of depth they deserve. Tom Sturridge makes for a compelling leading figure, capturing the titular character’s complex mix of coldness and compassion without ever losing our loyalty; he’s supported by an equally talented ensemble of players, including heavyweight UK stalwarts like Charles Dance, Joely Richardson, David Thewlis, and Stephen Fry among a host of less familiar faces, and there’s not a weak performance to be found among any of them.

As to whether the show’s writing does justice to the original, different fans will surely have different opinions. The story has been remolded to fit the modern world, and many elements of the comic have been reconfigured in the process. This is particularly true in terms of representation; though queer characters were always a part of the “Sandman” universe, the comic debuted 34 years ago, and much has changed since then. In bringing the story to the screen, the author and the rest of the creative team have brought things up to date, bringing more nuance to its queer representation even as it expands it wider, and reimagining many of its characters to reflect a more diverse and inclusive vision of the world. Inevitably, these choices may upset some die-hard fans – there’s already been the inevitable toxic outcry against the show’s gender-swapping of characters and the decision to cast actors of color in roles originally depicted as white.

Still, for those who loved the original for providing a fantasy space where ALL could feel welcome – exactly the way Neil Gaiman intended it to be – it’s hard to find a reason to complain.

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Arts & Entertainment

Lady Gaga defends same-sex marriage at D.C. concert

“They better not try to mess with gay marriage in this country!”

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albums, gay news, Washington Blade
Lady Gaga (Photo courtesy of Might Real Agency)

Lady Gaga spoke up for same-sex marriage and abortion rights at her Washington, D.C. stop of her nationwide the ‘Chromatica Ball’ tour

Early in the show at Nationals Park, the Oscar-winning performer dedicated her song “Born This Way,” which she called an equality anthem, to LGBTQ+ community. “This might not be the national anthem, but it’s our national anthem!” Gaga yelled, calling out Republican lawmakers, “They better not try to mess with gay marriage in this country!”

Lady Gaga’s second album Born This Way, released in 2011, marked her significant transition into a burgeoning pop culture icon. The title song “Born This Way” is one of numerous proofs of Gaga’s identity as the LGBTQ+ advocate.

“Born This Way, my song and album, were inspired by Carl Bean, a gay black religious activist who preached, sung, and wrote about being ‘Born This Way.’ Notably, his early work was in 1975, 11 years before I was born,” Gaga explained the background story behind the album. “Thank you for decades of relentless love, bravery, and a reason to sing. So we can all feel joy, because we deserve joy. Because we deserve the right to inspire tolerance, acceptance, and freedom for all.”

Gaga also addressed abortion rights later in her concert. Before performing ‘Edge Of Glory,’ she delivered a powerful speech on women’s rights, “I would like to dedicate this song to every woman in America. To every woman who now has to worry about her body if she gets pregnant. I pray that this country will speak up, that we will stick together, and that we will not stop until it’s right! For every woman.”

“I don’t mean to be a downer, but there’s some shit that’s more important than show business.” Gaga paused and added before continuing the stripped-down version of this song.

Gaga’s next stop will be at East Rutherford, New Jersey. Then she will then head to Chicago and Boston to continue her tour.

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Out & About

Blade, Baltimore Banner explore state of LGBTQ community

‘State of the Community: LGBTQ+ Edition’ at Center Stage

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A fire that destroyed this home in Baltimore is being investigated as a hate crime. This and other community concerns will be addressed at a community event Wednesday in Baltimore. (Photo by Jim Becker)

The Washington Blade and the Baltimore Banner will join forces to host “State of the Community: LGBTQ+ Edition” on Wednesday, Aug. 10 at 6 p.m. at Center Stage, The Head Theater, in Baltimore.

The event is a platform for the LGBTQ community to express concerns about recent developments with the Supreme Court, the current political climate, monkeypox, and other issues. 

The event will be hosted by John-John Williams IV, DEI reporter for the Baltimore Banner, and feature Andre K. McDaniels, managing editor of the Baltimore Banner and Kevin Naff, editor-in-chief of the Washington Blade. 

The event is free but registration is required. Beer and refreshments will be on sale. For more details, visit Eventbrite

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