2024 Oscar Nominations: Queer Characters and Actors Made an Impact, But Was It As Much As Expected?

The good, the bad and the predictable now that we know who got honored and who got snubbed

John Paul King | Washington Blade, Courtesy of the National LGBT Media Association

2023 was a very queer year at the movies, but you might not be able to tell that from looking at the nominations for the 96th Annual Academy Awards (aka the Oscars), which were announced early on Tuesday morning at the Motion Picture Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, Calif.

It’s true there were a few significant nods included for queer actors and/or actors in queer roles, as well as for films that included queer characters or subject matter and/or the creatives behind them, and we don’t want to seem unappreciative of that progress, even if we suspect it might be due to the Academy’s new guideline that a film must meet at least two out of four standards of representation and inclusion to qualify for nomination, implemented this year for the first time; even so, it’s hard not to feel a bit like an afterthought when so many queer movies, performers and creators that stood out among the year’s crop of releases — many of which scored recognition from multiple other awards bodies — have been left out of the lineup.

Indeed, it can almost be said that this year’s Oscar ballot is more notable for its snubs than its inclusions, which doesn’t just apply to the LGBTQ+ community. 

The most egregious omission, in fact, is also the most predictable: The failure of Academy voters to nominate Greta Gerwig as Best Director for her industry-shaking efforts at the helm of “Barbie,” a film which managed to jump-start the big screen’s box office by bringing audiences back to theaters in droves and sent more shock waves resonating through our culture than all the year’s other movies combined. 

Though the movie — which earned eight nominations in total, including acting nods for supporting players Ryan Gosling and America Ferrera — made the cut for Best Picture, and Gerwig was nominated in the Best Adapted Screenplay category (alongside partner and now-husband Noah Baumbach), her name is glaringly absent from the list of contenders. 

Add to this the equally perplexing snub of Margot Robbie — who was also an executive producer of the film — as Best Leading Actress, and it’s difficult not to see an unspoken reprimand being delivered to two strong women for daring to shake up the industry’s status quo by building a blockbuster movie hit around an unapologetically feminist core.

Still, with its eight nods, “Barbie” — which topped the Washington Blade’s list of the Best Queer-centric Films of 2023 — made a strong showing, though other of the year’s biggest titles received more. “Oppenheimer,” Christopher Nolan’s existential epic about the creator of the atomic bomb, unsurprisingly led the pack with 13, followed by Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things” with 11 and Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” with 10. Each of these four films are competing as Best Picture — and all have a strong chance at the trophy, though “Oppenheimer” is shaping up to be a sweeping juggernaut for the season. 

Also nominated in the category are Bradley Cooper’s Bernstein biopic “Maestro” and Cord Jefferson’s late-season under-the-radar satire “American Fiction,” both of which include significant queer narratives in their storylines.

Expanding on the “good news” from the Oscars announcement, the Best Actor category includes a nomination for out gay actor Colman Domingo for his star turn as the titular out gay civil rights hero in “Rustin,” as well as for Cooper’s performance as the bisexual Bernstein in “Maestro.” The rest of the field is made up of Cillian Murphy (“Oppenheimer”), Paul Giamatti (“The Holdovers”) and Jeffrey Wright (“American Fiction”). 

Notably absent from the race is out Irish actor Andrew Scott, who was considered a strong front-runner for his leading turn in out British filmmaker Andrew Haigh’s “All of Us Strangers.”

For Best Leading Actress, a nomination went to queer ally Annette Benning for playing the title role in “Nyad,” as well as to Carey Mulligan for her portrayal of Bernstein’s loyal wife in “Maestro.” 

Additionally, Lily Gladstone made history by becoming the first Indigenous American to be nominated in the category for “Killers of the Flower Moon,” though she has stated in interviews that she identifies as “middle-gender.” 

Rounding out the race are Sandra Hüller (“Anatomy of a Fall”) and Emma Stone (“Poor Things”); at this point, it’s probably too early to predict the winners — there are a lot of politics involved in the final stretch before the big night — but, in this category, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Stone taking the prize.

In the supporting categories, iconic out actress Jodie Foster scored for her role as the title character’s trainer and BFF in “Nyad,” and Danielle Brooks made the cut for her show-stealing performance in the queer-inclusive musical “The Color Purple”). Their competition comes from Ferrera, Emily Blunt (“Oppenheimer”) and Joyce Da’Vine Randolph (“The Holdovers”). 

On the Supporting Actor side, Sterling K. Brown was nominated for playing the lead character’s recently-out gay brother in “American Fiction,” while Gosling’s masculinity-skewing performance was “Kenough” to score him a nod for “Barbie.” 

The other contenders are Robert DeNiro (“Killers of the Flower Moon”), Robert Downey, Jr. (“Oppenheimer”), and Mark Ruffalo (“Poor Things”); look to Downey as the probable winner, but Ruffalo’s against-type turn could pull off an upset.

It would be easy to go down the list and point out all the films and people that were unexpectedly passed over for this final round in Hollywood’s Awards Sweepstakes — the most obvious, apart from Gerwig and Robbie, are Leonardo DiCaprio’s lead performance in “Killers of the Flower Moon”), but we can’t avoid mentioning the shutout of overtly queer standout movies like “All of Us Strangers” or “Saltburn” (from filmmaker Emerald Fennell, also part of the cadre of female power players behind “Barbie”), which failed to score nods in any category despite multiple nominations and wins from other awards bodies.

Yet, looking to the positive, despite the disappointment of so many surprise omissions, there are some strong steps forward represented for the queer community in this year’s nominations, with both Domingo and Foster standing within reach of becoming the first openly queer actor to win an Oscar for playing an openly queer character. 

As noted above, Gladstone could also become the first Indigenous American to win a Leading Actress trophy, and though it wouldn’t be a first, a win for either “Maestro” or “American Fiction” would add another film with strong queer storylines to the list of Oscar’s Best Pictures.

Another milestone worth mentioning: with his nomination as Best Director for “Killers of the Flower Moon,” Martin Scorsese has become the living filmmaker with the most Oscar nominations (10) and second only to William Wyler (12) for the most of all time.

That may not be a “queer” record, but it’s definitely a cool one.

For a complete list of the nominations, visit the Oscars website.

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