Sunday’s Golden Globes could be considered the opening salvo in the sure-to-be epic Natalie Portman v. Annette Bening caged deathmatch for the Oscar. Both women walked away with trophies, Portman for drama and Bening for comedy. Both women are considered a lock to receive Academy Award for best actress nomination in a week when they’re announced. And both women are being acclaimed for playing gay roles this year. It’s almost an embarrassment of riches.
The uniqueness of both women playing lesbian roles (or in Portman’s case, a role at the very least where she engages in some pretty lesbian activities) should not be lost in the shuffle of award season. Try to think of the last time two actresses received such acclaim for playing gay roles in different films in the same year? Think hard. OK, not that hard because there are none. This is it. There is even the possibility this year of up to four actresses nominated for gay (or gay acting) roles as Bening’s The Kids Are All Right co-star Julianne Moore has a good shot of getting a nod and Portman’s Black Swan co-star Mila Kunis has a slightly slimmer shot of earning on as well. Like I was saying, riches.
Of course, this won’t be the first time actresses have reaped the benefits of playing gay on the big screen. The Academy Awards has honored actresses fourteen times for queering it up over its 82-year history, starting in 1940 with a best supporting actress nomination for Judith Anderson’s Mrs. Danvers, whose creepy obsession with the deceased title character Rebecca had decidedly lesbian overtones. But then it took until 1983 for the first explicitly lesbian role to be honored, as Cher earned a best supporting actress for her turn as Meryl Streep’s lesbian roommate in Silkwood.
A quick rundown of the other women honored for playing queer roles.
—1984, Vanessa Redgrave for The Bostonians: Best actress nomination for portraying a suffragette-era feminist in a Boston Marriage with a younger feminist.
—1985, Whoopi Goldberg and Margaret Avery for The Color Purple: Best lead and supporting actress nominations for implied (though, more accurately, flat-out removed) lesbianism.
—1999, Hilary Swank for Boys Don’t Cry: Best actress win for playing the real-life murdered transsexual man Brandon Teena.
—2001, Judi Dench and Kate Winslet for Iris: Best lead and supporting actress nominations for playing older and younger versions of bisexual writer Iris Murdoch.
—2002, Nicole Kidman and Moore for The Hours: Best actress win for Kidman as Virginia Woolf and supporting actress nomination for Moore as an unhappy ’50s housewife.
—2003, Charlize Theron for Monster: Best actress win for deglamming to play real-life lesbian serial killer Aileen Wuornos.
—2005, Felicity Huffman for Transamerica: Best actress nomination for playing a transsexual woman who goes on an unexpected road-trip with her even more unexpected son.
—2006, Dench for Notes on a Scandal: Best actress nomination for playing the repressed lesbian stalker of Cate Blanchett.
—2008, Penelope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona Best supporting actress win for playing a fiery bisexual artist who seduces Scarlett Johansson.
So now, the 2010 female honorees look to be one of the most queer yet. Which is great news, but then puts us in the difficult position of having to pick a side. Bening and Portman have been the dueling frontrunners throughout award season so far. Portman seems to have the slight edge with an additional Critics Choice Award under her belt. But the Screen Actors Guild Awards are coming up Jan. 30. Really, it’s pretty much a toss-up.
Who will you be rooting for come Feb. 27 when the Academy Award envelope is opened? Who will win? And, come on, when will an actual out gay lady finally get nominated for playing gay? Please don’t let that take another 82 years.