'Tangerine' Filmmakers Launch An Oscar Campaign For Transgender Actresses, But The Race Will Be A Tough One

After treating the world to the gifts of shakycam, mumbly dialogue, and rambling stories about approaching your mid-30s, the Duplass brothers are now mounting a more benevolent endeavor. Filmmakers Jay and Mark, each of whom played executive producer on this summer’s Tangerine , are campaigning for the placement of stars Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor in the upcoming races for the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress Oscars, respectively. The significance of this effort, beyond due recognition for the talented stars of a film that the Academy might otherwise ignore, is that success thereof would make Rodriguez and Taylor the first transgender women nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress in either category.

The notion of either woman, Rodriguez especially, landing at least among the five finalists for the applicable Oscar is one to support — and not simply in the spirit of diversity. As Los Angeles prostitutes Sin-Dee and Alexandra, Rodriguez and Taylor are more fun and vividly empathetic than the wealth of performances seen thus far in 2015. But, even with the Duplass brothers backing their awards season foray, Rodriguez and Taylor are hardly surefire nominees; strong actresses in Academy-friendlier material make for stiff competition for the Tangerine stars.

The big question: Do they have a shot?

Kitana Kiki Rodriguez for Best Actress

Two things to note about this year’s Best Actress race: It’s especially competitive and especially young. Chief competitors as of yet include Room star Brie Larson (age 26), Joy star Jennifer Lawrence (age 25), Brooklyn star Saoirse Ronan (age 21), and Suffragette star Carey Mulligan (age 30), with the Academy’s beloved Cate Blanchett also in the mix for Carol and/or Truth, ditto Charlotte Rampling for 45 Years. But there could well be room for the Tangerine star on the list.

At present, Larson monopolizes prediction as the powerhouse of the bunch, and isn’t likely to be undone by a surprise entry like Rodriguez. Lawrence and Blanchett are practically guaranteed a nod every time they perform, with the latter doubling the odds with two talked-about movies coming out this season. And, while Ronan and Rampling are likely to earn nominations, neither is quite as certain as Larson, Lawrence, or Blanchett; Ronan, in fact, could suffer the blow of the category’s youth-heavy skew.

In the interest of shaking up the demographics of the list, the Academy could fill the Brooklyn star’s spot with Rampling or likewise elder actresses like Lily Tomlin (for Grandma) or Blythe Danner (for I’ll See You in My Dreams). Or it could vie for diversity in another sense and make history by shooting for Rodriguez. As worthy as any of the above women would be as both nominees and winners, Rodriguez's time to shine is long overdue.

Mya Taylor for Best Supporting Actress

On the one hand, the Academy might be more willing to grant a Best Supporting Actress spot to a film like Tangerine, which is leagues from its usual flavor. On the other hand, Taylor plays a much more demure character than what the category usually opts to recognize, with Rodriguez actually handling the kind of mania that the Supporting Oscars favor.

This year, Best Supporting Actress likelies include Rooney Mara for Carol, Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl, Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs, Jennifer Jason Leigh for The Hateful Eight, Rachel McAdams for Spotlight, Joan Allen for Room, Jane Fonda for Youth, Julie Walters for Brooklyn, and Kristen Stewart for Clouds of Sils Maria. Predictions have varied in regard to this lot, though Mara and Vikander have led the pack more or less consistently; Winslet and Leigh seem like relatively viable competitors, too.

The lack of a surefire frontrunner, though, gives Taylor a bit of hope. McAdams, Allen, Fonda, and the rest have fallen victim to the large number of serviceable performances, all bouncing off one another in conversation without any taking much of a lead. The fresh perspective of Taylor’s film alone could help distinguish her from the pack, though her downplayed character — especially alongside Rodriguez’s off-the-wall kookiness — isn’t likely to give her enough of an edge to make it to the final five.

Tangerine might not exactly be on the Academy's radar, but, at the very least, this move could make the public more aware of the terrific little film, and the efforts of the Duplass brothers could get a dialogue going in Hollywood that has been long overdue. There can be no doubt that Taylor and Rodriguez certainly deserve to be nominated in these categories that have been, straight up to this point, dominated by cisgender actresses, but whether or not they will achieve those nominations, and whether or not they can win in those categories, seems unlikely in Hollywood's current, narrow landscape for recognizing excellence.

Image: Magnolia Pictures