On January 14, 2016, English musician and visual artist Anohni made history by becoming the second transgender performer to ever receive an Oscar nomination. “Manta Ray,” Anohni’s moody ballad from the “Racing Extinction” soundtrack, earned the singer a nomination for best original song, and it seemed very likely she would hit the Oscars stage to perform her song with fellow nominees like Lady Gaga, The Weeknd and Sam Smith. But, as Anohni explains in a powerful open letter published on Pitchfork earlier today, the invitation to perform on the Oscars stage never came, though it certainly did for those aformentioned nominees.
“Everyone was calling with excited congratulations,” she writes of the reaction she received to her nomination. “A week later, Sam Smith, Lady Gaga, and the Weeknd were rolled out as the evening’s entertainment with more performers ‘soon to be announced.’ Confused, I sat and waited. Would someone be in touch? But as time bore on I heard nothing. I was besieged with people asking me if I was going to perform. My anxiety increased as weeks passed. I slowly realized that the positive implication of this nomination was being retracted. The producers seemed to have decided to stage performances only by the singers who were deemed commercially viable.”
As some may have read in the news just last week, the Oscars decided to cut performances by Anohni and Sumi Jo, whose “Simple Song #3” from the drama “Youth” was also nominated. While she is still invited to attend the ceremony as a nominee, the singer won’t even be flying to Los Angeles and instead has written the letter in protest of the Oscars. The performer is the latest in a long line of artists who are boycotting the ceremony this year for a host of reasons that all relate to the Academy’s diversity issue.
“I want to be clear — I know that I wasn’t excluded from the performance directly because I am transgendered,” she writes. “I was not invited to perform because I am relatively unknown in the U.S., singing a song about ecocide, and that might not sell advertising space. It is not me that is picking the performers for the night, and I know that I don’t have an automatic right to be asked.”
“But if you trace the trail of breadcrumbs, the deeper truth of it is impossible to ignore. Like global warming, it is not one isolated event, but a series of events that occur over years to create a system that has sought to undermine me, at first as a feminine child, and later as an androgynous transwoman. It is a system of social oppression and diminished opportunities for transpeople that has been employed by capitalism in the U.S. to crush our dreams and our collective spirit.”
Anohni is a popular alternative artist in England, and she even won the lauded Mercury Prize back in 2005 as part of the group Antony and the Johnsons. Given all the controversy the Academy has received since the nominations over their refusal to embrace diversity, it seems incredibly baffling as to why they cut perhaps their most progressive nominee from appearing on the telecast. Even worse, as Anohni explains, “…the Oscars added that I was transgendered to the trivia page of their website.”