Gay History 101: The Oscars

Ellen DeGeneres (right) with her wife, Portia de Rossi. DeGeneres was selected in 2006 to host the 79th Acadamy Awards, making her the fi rst openly-gay person to host the event. She returned to host the 86th Acadamy Awards in 2014. (Photo: Angela George)

April 1st, 1930: The Motion Picture Producers and Distribution Association adopted a new code. Movies were to reflect “the better standards of life” and “Respect for the Flag” was demanded in movies. The love of a man and woman was a proper theme but "all sex relationships" were to be treated with “due care.” The code provided the following guideline: "The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld.”

As the world gets ready for the 87th Academy Awards it’s worth noting that in those 87 years, very few openly gay actors have taken home a trophy: John Gielgud (1904 – 2000) Won for Best Supporting Actor in 1981 for “Arthur” and he was nominated in 1964 as well. Despite a 1953 gay scandal in the British tabloids, Gielgud’s sexual orientation was not well-known or publicized in Hollywood. Jodie Foster (November 19, 1962) has twice won and four times been nominated for an Oscar, but she wasn’t open.

Jared Leto (December 26, 1971) His performance as a transgender woman in “Dallas Buyers Club” (2013) earned him the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Leto is a gay rights activist. In October 2009, he raised money to the campaign against California Proposition 8.

Joel Grey (April 11, 1932). He is best known for portraying the Master of Ceremonies in both the stage and film versions of the musical “Cabaret” for which he won the Oscar, in 1973, as Best Supporting Actor. In January 2015, Grey opened up about his sexuality in an interview with People, stating: "I don't like labels, but if you have to put a label on it, I'm a gay man."

John Schlesinger, (1926 –2003) was an English film and stage director, and actor. He won an Academy Award for Best Director for “Midnight Cowboy,” (1969) and was nominated for two other films (“Darling” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday”).

Scott Rudin (July 14, 1958) In 2012, he became one of the few people who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award, and the first producer to do so. He won the Oscar as the producer of Best Picture “No Country for Old Men.”

There is only a handful of winning gay writers, including Dustin Lance Black (“Milk”), Bill Condon (“Gods & Monsters”), and Alan Ball (“American Beauty”). Lee Daniels was the first gay African-American to be nominated Best Director for Precious, in January 2010. Lincoln, the darling of the Oscars for 2012, was written by openly gay writer / activist Tony Kushner. He received a nomination. The movie won 3 Oscars.

Sir Ian McKellen (May 25, 1939) has long been out and proud. Despite multiple Laurence Olivier Awards, a Tony Award, a Golden Globe Award, five Emmy Award nominations, and two Academy Award nominations, Sir Ian has never taken home the Oscar. He was nominated, for Best Actor in 1999’s “Gods and Monsters.”

Sir Nigel Hawthorne, (1929 –2001) was nominated for Best Actor in “The Madness of King George.” An intensely private person, he was upset at having been involuntarily "outed" as gay in 1995 in the publicity surrounding the Academy Awards, but he did attend the ceremony with his long-time partner Trevor Bentham.

George Cukor (1899 –1983) Homosexuality may have been the reason that he was dismissed from directing “Gone With the Wind.” He won for “My Fair Lady.” Vincent Minelli (1903 –1986) won for “Gigi” in 1958.

Midnight Cowboy (1969) The film won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay; it is the only X-rated film to win an Oscar in any category, The ‘X’ rating was given because of the "homosexual frame of reference" and its "possible influence upon youngsters.”

The Academy has a long history of showering accolades on straight actors for playing gay roles. Peter Finch was the first actor to be nominated (1971) for an Oscar for playing an openly gay character in Sunday Bloody Sunday. It took 14 years (1985) for a gay character to win an Oscar, when William Hurt won for “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” Tom Hanks won Best Actor in 1993 for “Philadelphia,” Hilary Swank won Best Actress in 1999 for “Boys Don’t Cry,” Nicole Kidman won Best Actress in 2002 for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf in “The Hours,” Charlize Theron won Best Actress in 2003 for “Monster,” Philip Seymour Hoffman won in 2005 for “Capote,” and Sean Penn won Best Actor in 2009 for “Milk.” Christopher Plummer won in 2012 for “Beginners.

Matthew McConaughey won Best Actor in 2014 for his role in “Dallas Buyers Club.”

Straight actors nominated for playing LGBT roles include John Lithgow in “The World According to Garp” (1982). He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 55th Academy Awards. John Lithgow played transgender Roberta Muldoon. Chris Sarandon nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role as a pre-operative transsexual whose husband’s reasons for robbing a bank is to pay for his wife’s sex reassignment surgery in “Dog Day Afternoon” ( 1975). Jude Law for “The Talented Mr. Ripley” in 1999, Javier Bardem in 2002 for “Before Night Falls” and Salma Hayek that same year for “Frida,” Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in 2005 for “Brokeback Mountain,” Felicity Huffman the same year for “Transamerica,” and Judi Dench in 2006 for “Notes On A Scandal.” Annette Bening for Best Actress in “The Kids Are Alright.”

Gay actors like Jane Lynch and Chris Colfer from “Glee” have won Golden Globes for their TV acting, but Oscar remains astoundingly homophobic, perhaps the Academy believes a gay actor in a gay role isn’t enough of a “stretch,” or isn’t even acting.

Sir Elton John and Melissa Etheridge have both won best song or soundtrack awards.

On September 7, 2006, Ellen DeGeneres was selected to host the 79th Academy Awards ceremony. This made her the first openly gay person to have hosted the event. Ellen would host the 86th Academy Awards on March 2, 2014 for the second time.

Award-winning star of stage and screen Neil Patrick Harris will host the 87th Oscars.


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