As your resident media critic and film junkie, I have been swept
up in the excitement of award season. Thus far, I have seen August: Osage County, a beautiful film
about family strife that features complex relationships between mothers,
daughters and sisters, particularly in the nominated performances of Julia
Roberts and Meryl Streep. The film also features the screenplay adaptation by
Tracy Letts of her own exquisite play of the same title. All in all, a good day
in the cinema for women’s representation and theatre lovers.
Coming off the high of exceeded expectations, I made the
mistake of going to see Dallas Buyers
Club. This is in the category of obvious Oscar-bait subject matter, along
with likely Best Picture-winner Twelve
Years a Slave. The Oscars are the reverse of the intentionally airheaded
seasonal films, aiming at difficult subject matter and high art, but sometimes
seem more like clubbing the audience with their values.
Inspired by a true story, Dallas Buyers Club tackles homophobia, the AIDS crisis, and the
problems with the FDA and American medical systems while featuring a straight
white male protagonist, the rodeo man whose performance got Mathew McConaughey
a nomination for best lead. Ron Woodroof becomes a queer hero while trying to make
a quick buck selling unapproved medication, and where this film fails in trans
representation it succeeds beautifully as a critique of the FDA. I can also
appreciate the need for an AIDS film that reminds audiences HIV is a problem that
affects much more of society than men who have sex with men.
Woodroof’s business partner, a transwoman, is a stereotype
caught between woman and drag queen, physically beautiful, obsessed with her
appearance, a mentally disturbed drug user name Rayon of all things. She dies to facilitate a hetero romance
between her two friends. Both call her “he” repeatedly, adding insult to
injury. If a character does something screwed up like misgendering his dead
friend, it shouldn’t be that hard to make it clear that he misspoke out of
ignorance. Ron Woodruff is clearly ignorant. But his love interest, the woman
doctor portrayed as sensitive and in-the-know, collaborates with him on
referring to Rayon as “he.” This isn’t an accident of ambiguity, like Angel in Rent: the film explicitly states that
Rayon wants a sex-change. Taking a stance and clearly communicating her
gender seemed like a step in the right direction, followed by twenty steps
The actual acting of Rayon, a nominated performance by Jared
Leto, had moments of exquisite sensitivity and moments of out-of-place camp. A
mixed bag. Although her portrayal suffered well-deserved criticism, I confess I enjoyed her and her messy characterization, 90%
of the time: my issue was with her storyline and the film’s treatment of her, as well as the choice of casting a cisgender man.
I haven’t seen enough of the nominated films to know what deserves
to win, and I admit Dallas Buyer's Club did a few things right, but as we come up on Oscar Sunday, I’m just praying the film
doesn’t win Best Picture. The execution may have been good, but the script
needed serious hack and slash rewriting.
Hollywood and its directors need to listen to our feedback
for the ways they screw over minorities. After the racist travesty that was The Lone Ranger (thankfully a box office
flop), and a Superman movie in which Lois Lane failed to do anything useful and the lone female
soldier’s only line was “Superman’s hot,” maybe I shouldn’t expect better. The
last LGBT film to sweep through the nominations was Brokeback Mountain, which fell back on the old theatrical
convention of killing off the character that started the relationship.
I don’t think it’s absurd to hope, though, that in Oscar-bait
films that are supposed to be memorable and make lasting changes, the least
they could do is call the transwoman by correct pronouns after unceremoniously
killing her off. The least the Oscars owe us is to not let this win awards.