One main narrative surrounding this year’s Oscar race is how it has been the year of the woman. Our Best Picture frontrunners are Lady Bird, The Shape Of Water, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. And the Oscar snubbed In The Fade starring Diane Kruger picked up Best Foreign Language Film at both the Critic’s Choice Awards and the Golden Globes. Heck, even Coco, the Best Animated Feature frontrunner, is named after the main character’s grandmother.
But what better way to honor the “year of the woman” narrative than to award a prize, Best Foreign Language Film in particular, to A Fantastic Woman? A film that is indeed fantastic.
A Fantastic Woman has a rather simplistic story about a nightclub singer named Marina (Daniela Vega) whose older lover Orlando passes away. Leaving her to deal with his conservative family that tries to ban her from attending his wake and funeral. Yet writer/director Sebastian Lelio crafts it with such flare, weaving in fantasy elements thanks to its scenes of Marina seeing Orlando’s ghost, and sequences like one where Marina is imagining herself leading a dance in a nightclub.
Of course, another reason the film works so amazingly well is its leading performance by Daniela Vega. Vega crafts together a complex heroine who keeps her head high and refuses to back down as she faces adversity. Once she captivates every frame she appears in even without saying a word, it feels like we’re watching a star being born. While Daniela Vega couldn’t make history in the Best Actress category by being the first trans performer to be up for an acting Oscar, a film that centers around her winning a coveted prize would create visibility for the community she represents.
A win for a film featuring a trans actress in a leading role would also be a glorious slap in the face to the ongoing practice of casting cis actors (actors that identify with their assigned sex) in transgender roles. This practice might’ve been okay in the 80’s or the 90’s. But it’s 2018.
Withtrans actors like Laverne Cox, Ian Alexander, Jamie Clayton, Mya Taylor, and now Daniela Vega in A Fantastic Woman getting prominent acting roles, excuses for casting cisgender actors like “we need a big name” should become less and less valid. Even if names like Taylor and Vega aren’t as in-demand as they should be, the fact that they’re getting work in the first place shows that Hollywood has no reason not to hire trans actors to play trans roles.
Here’s hoping that the Academy Awards A Fantastic Woman with the Best Foreign Language Film Award as a way to honor the quality of the film itself and to use the film as a beacon to send a signal to Hollywood for them to create more trans visibility. Not to mention, the film is made by a director who’s become a champion for female-driven star vehicles; the 2013 Best Foreign Language entry from Chile known as Gloria starring 57-year old Paulina Garcia, his upcoming English language debut Disobedience starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams as a lesbian couple, and A Fantastic Woman.
Since this year’s Oscar race has been about celebrating women in film, that means it should celebrate stories about different types of women. Women of different age groups and, as you can see here, women of different races and sexual orientations.