With #OscarsSoWhite dominating the entertainment headlines this year it’s very easy to slam the 88th Oscars as the clusterfuck of underrepresentation that it is. With all the negative publicity surrounding the ceremony you’d assume that the ceremony would attempt to promote inclusivity in any way possible. Unfortunately, this was not the case when it came to the musical performances that took place that night as transgender artist Anohni (previously Antony Hegarty from Antony and the Johnsons) was not invited to perform despite her song ‘Manta Ray’ being nominated for Best Song.
On first glance, the performances at the ceremony seemed to herald a victory for queer inclusion, as the openly gay Sam Smith performed his contribution to the Spectre soundtrack and the ultimate gal pal for cis-gendered white males, Lady Gaga made an appearance. While all of this gave the illusion of queer acceptance, Anohni’s absence left a bitter taste in the mouth of many. At a time when transvisibility throughout the media is at all time high (think Caitlin Jenner, Laverne Cox, The Danish Girl) you’d expect the second transgender nominee for any award in the Oscars’ history to be welcomed with a fanfare of 21st century understanding. Alas, this was not the case.
The official reasoning behind Anohni’s absence was time constraints, however I feel that this has more to do with Anohni’s outsider status as a musician. Despite being critically acclaimed, and her 2005 album I Am A Bird Now stealing the Mercury Music Prize of that year, Anohni’s latest direction has seen her entering more avant-garde and experimental realms. Anohni’s frank discussion of her own experience as a transwoman rendered her, in her own words, less “commercially viable” in comparison to the other artists chosen to perform.
Anohni is in an unfortunate position in that her feminine identity does not conform to the expectations placed on female performers in the music industry
The problem with commercially viable trans-representation in the media is the way in which it is polarised into two spheres by the lens of popular culture. On the one hand, we have the Caitlin Jenners of the world who, after facing a period of adversity, have landed in the safety net of an easily identifiable feminine identity. These are the individuals who society has acknowledged as the gender that they now identify with and conform to the rigid standards of femininity or masculinity that we’ve had shoved down our throats from a very young age. On the other hand we have the queer identifying figures who want to fuck with our perceptions of gender, sexuality and identity who have always existed on the peripheries of pop culture. Icons such as the proto-punk singer Jayne County and Throbbing Gristle’s Genes P-Orridge and h/er so named Pandrogyny Project poked fun at the binaries of gender through their own subversive bodily performances and thus rendered them outsiders when it came to critical and viable success.
Anohni is in an unfortunate position in that her feminine identity does not conform to the expectations placed on female performers in the music industry and thus she cannot be accepted by the mainstream. At a time when acceptance and diversity is championed and valorised, there will always be that one group that is silenced in the grand narrative of equality, and in the context of the Oscars it seems like that the black community have bedfellows with the non-cisgendered community.