The stories of transgender people have helped a lot of folks find awards season glory over the years. Hilary Swank and Jared Leto are the most obvious examples, each of them winning Oscars for their performances in “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Dallas Buyers Club,” respectively. But the latter’s win in particular brought with it a loud call for more trans actors and actresses being cast in trans roles. Wouldn’t it be nice if an actual transperson was up their winning an Oscar, people dreamed.
The primary reason why that has never been the case is not really the fault of Oscar voters. The amount of trans performers that have been given the material to warrant Oscar consideration is pretty much zero. Until now, at least. Sean Baker’s extraordinarily raw and affecting “Tangerine” opens this weekend after a seemingly endless round of applause on the festival circuit. And with it comes one of the year’s best performances: Mya Taylor, hilarious and heartbreaking as Alexandra, a sharp-tongued transgender sex worker. And it just so happens that Taylor herself is a transgender woman.
The story behind Taylor being cast in the film is almost as interesting as her ultimate performance. According to Los Angeles Magazine, “Tangerine” director Baker saw her at the Los Angeles LGBT Center and was “struck by how well her physical presence would play on-screen.” As it turned out, her physical presence was just one of the many things Taylor brought to the film. She more or less steals it altogether.
Taylor and “Tangerine” will surely be mentioned in a lot of year-end stories about the best films and performances of 2015. But for that to translate into an Oscar nomination is a tall order. “Tangerine” is a tiny film — as much of its press is quick to note, it was shot on an iPhone 6. It’s not going to have the money behind it for a Jared Leto-sized campaign (or an Eddie Redmayne-sized one, as the actor is sure to be in the conversation for playing a transgender woman in “The Danish Girl), which is why folks need to a) get out there and see it, b) bang the drums for it in every which way possible and c) spend the next six months talking about why Taylor should be in the Oscar conversation. Oscar voters will finally no longer have the excuse that there’s “no great performances by trans actors to nominate,” they just need to become well aware of that fact between now and January.