With the 2018 Academy Award nominations, the LGBT community made history. Documentary filmmaker Yance Ford became the first transgender director to earn an Oscar nomination. Even more impressive might be the fact that it's with his full-length feature debut. Ford directed the Netflix doc Strong Island, nominated for Best Documentary Feature. The movie takes a closer look at the murder of his brother, William, a high school teacher who was shot and killed in 1992.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, shortly after earning the nomination, Ford explained that it wasn't only a win for him, but for every trans director struggling to tell their story. His nomination shows that there is an audience for films made by trans artists, and that audience also happens to be part of the Academy. It's why he thinks more trans directors will see their names on the ballot in the future.
“I think that everybody out there should know that there is a generation of trans directors who are coming for their Oscars,” Ford told EW. “So this might be the first, but it certainly won’t be the last.” The point being, Ford is one of many trans directors that deserve to be noticed — not only for making Oscars history, but for the work that they have done.
Ford is only the third known trans person to have been nominated for an Oscar, according to The Advocate. Composer Angela Morley was the first trans person to have been nominated for an Oscar. Morley earned two nominations before her death in 2009 for the music from 1974's The Little Prince and 1978's The Slipper and the Rose.
Last year, Anohni — the lead singer of Antony and the Johnsons — was nominated for Best Original Song for “Manta Ray” from the documentary Racing Extinction. Anohni boycotted the ceremony, however, explaining in an essay for Pitchfork, that she felt honored to be the first trans trans performer to have been nominated, only to be hurt by the Academy's decision to cut her performance due to "time constraints."
Anohni wrote that she knew she wasn't excluded from the show, in which Sam Smith, Lady Gaga, and The Weeknd all performed their nominated songs, because she was trans. But after Dave Grohl, who wasn't nominated in any category, was asked to perform, she couldn't, in all conscious, attend the awards.
At the time, she wrote:
"Last night I tried to force myself to get on the plane to fly to L.A. for all the nominee events, but the feelings of embarrassment and anger knocked me back, and I couldn't get on the plane. I imagined how it would feel for me to sit amongst all those Hollywood stars, some of the brave ones approaching me with sad faces and condolences. There I was, feeling a sting of shame that reminded me of America's earliest affirmations of my inadequacy as a transperson."
The Academy never publicly commented on Anohni's essay or decision to not attend the awards.
Neither Anohni or Morley won in their categories, which means, if Ford does win for Best Documentary Feature, he would become the first trans person to win an Oscar.
While winning would be nice, Ford told Entertainment Weekly that the best part of this nomination was knowing more people will see Strong Island and learn about his brother, who was unfairly treated like a suspect instead of a victim. Ford said,
"The very exciting thing for me when I think about history is that this film is a correction to the historical record of my brother’s life and if this nomination helps to magnify that and if by making history I helped to magnify that, then… it’s all good as far as I’m concerned."
Along with Ford, the romantic drama A Fantastic Woman, starring trans actor Daniela Vega, was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. While films focused on trans characters have been nominated before — Dallas Buyers Club, The Danish Girl — few actually starred trans actors.
It was something Vega pointed out in an interview with Vanity Fair. “The fact that I am trans provides the script and narrative with a higher level of truth,” she said. “But, more importantly, it opens a door into the movie world that had never been explored before, because I am a trans actress playing a trans woman.”
These nominees, along with nominations for movies Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird, and The Shape Of Water — the most nominated movie of the year with 13 nominations — is why GLAAD declared it "a big day for LGBTQ-inclusive films" at the Academy Awards. “These important stories move the needle forward on LGBTQ acceptance," Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD President and CEO, said, "at a time when media images are often the front lines for marginalized communities.”
It's why it's not just an honor that Ford was nominated, it's an important step forward that shows in some capacity, he and the rest of the LGBT community have already won.