In what could be a breakthrough moment for the upcoming Academy Awards, two transgender actresses will be the subject of campaigns for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress this year.
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, the stars of “Tangerine,” a Sundance Film Festival hit about two trans prostitutes, are being backed by Magnolia Pictures in what Variety calls the “first time a movie distributor has ever backed an awards season push for a transgender actress in Hollywood history.”
The excitement around the potentially historic recognition of “Tangerine,” however, arrives amid an increasing awareness of a massive diversity gap in Hollywood blockbusters. A recent USC study found that less than 1% of 2014’s top grossing films featured a LGB-identified person and no transgender characters appeared in those movies at all. Despite the breakout success of “Orange Is the New Black” star Laverne Cox, it’s still more common to see non-trans actors take on these types of roles.
In previous years, several cisgender performers playing trans characters have been nominated for Hollywood’s highest honor, with Hillary Swank winning Best Actress for 1999’s “Boys Don’t Cry,” Jared Leto winning Best Supporting Actor for 2013’s “Dallas Buyers Club,” and Eddie Redmayne expected to be a Best Actor contender this year for his performance as Lili Elbe, one of the first people to undergo successful sex reassignment surgery, in “The Danish Girl.”
One recent film that broke the mold prior to “Tangerine,” was “Carl(a)” an indie drama starring Cox and another trans actress, Joslyn DeFreece. That film, which started production in 2011, will finally reach a wider audience as it begins a platform release next month via Ariztical Entertainment to qualify for the Oscars. Getting a film starring actual trans actors financed was a challenge, but one that director Eli Hershko believed would be more rewarding.
“I think that as the trans movement gets to be more mainstream, we will see more trans men and women portrayed,” he told MSNBC in April. “If they’re good actors, they deserve to be seen no matter what their gender or sexual preference.”
“Tangerine” was shot entirely on iPhone5s and has grossed less that $1 million. Still, Mark Duplass, one of the film’s producers, thinks there is momentum behind the low budget movie. “This is the time for it,” he told Variety, “We’re in the middle of a civil rights movement.”
Meanwhile, Taylor and Rodriguez already have reason to celebrate, they were both nominated for Independent Spirit Awards on Tuesday.