If you missed Tangerine when it first appeared over the summer, now’s a good time to catch up: The film—director Sean Baker’s sensitive, honest, and often funny look at the lives of a pair of transgender prostitutes over the course of a particularly eventful L.A. Christmas Eve—is sure to be the subject of much discussion this Oscar campaign season. With the support of producers Mark and Jay Duplass and distributor Magnolia Pictures, Tangerine’s trans stars are being advanced as candidates for the best actress and best supporting actress awards. This is a big deal—according to Variety, “It’s the first time a movie distributor has ever backed an awards season push for a transgender actress in Hollywood history.”
That the Duplass brothers and Magnolia are throwing their weight behind a nomination is itself an encouraging—and welcome, considering the performances in question—development. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez (up for the best actress category) and Mya Taylor (best supporting actress) are both new to feature filmmaking, and yet their acting in Tangerine (in front of an iPhone 5s, no less) is deeply compelling, organically modulating from girlfriend comedy to stark portrait of life on the margins with style and verve. But more important, while cis-playing-trans performances have been nominated for the Academy Award before, this push marks the first time actual trans actresses will be seriously considered.
Of course, the question of whether the actresses will ultimately receive an official nomination or the grand prize itself depends on how they rate next to their competition in the eyes of academy voters. But there’s a more pressing question to answer in the meantime: Will the academy allow trans women to be considered in the category of their declared gender in the first place?
According to a source within the organization, the answer is, thankfully, yes. Given that this is a precedent-setting situation, no official policy has been drafted. Nevertheless, the source confirmed that trans women will indeed count as women during the nomination process. That’s great news, because as Mark Duplass pointed out to Variety, “the TV Academy has embraced what’s happening in the trans movement with Transparent and Orange is the New Black.” It would be a shame—and honestly, a PR disaster—if the film body did not follow suit. Individual voters, will, of course, be left to their own consciences in terms of how they vote—hopefully artistic achievement, rather than personal feelings about trans people, will be the only metric. But in any case, it’s a relief to learn that the academy itself will honor these women with the basic acceptance they deserve.