When Sebastián Lelio’s “A Fantastic Woman” took home the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, it made history twice: Not only was it the first Oscar win for Chile, but the first Oscar win for a film with a transgender performer in the lead. The film’s Oscars represents a historic shift for transgender actors, who for too long have seen their identities being donned like a costume by cisgender actors gunning for awards. (Think “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Transamerica, and ‘Boys Don’t Cry”).
But the win may be most historic transgender rights activists in Chile, where the international attention to the film is bolstering a long-stagnating gender identity bill. According to The New York Times, transgender rights activists in Chile are hoping to use the film’s success to advance a 2013 bill that would allow transgender people to legally change their names and gender marker on official documents.
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Outgoing president Michelle Bachelet, a champion for LGBT rights, voiced her support for the film, saying: “The award fills us with pride, not only because it recognizes a high caliber film, but a story about respect for diversity that serves us well as a nation.”
Earlier this week, Vega met with Bachelet to discuss transgender rights in Chile. Following their meeting, Vega delivered a rousing speech that seemed to bode well for the bill’s advancement:
“Transgender people have existed from day one of human existence. And eventually humanity arrives at a moment where it makes a gesture towards better understanding itself. Film, like all art, tries to better understand humans — their dreams, the reach of their aspirations, and also the limitations. And this film attempts to understand the limits of empathy.
It also asks questions of the spectator. What do you see when you see Marina? Whose perspective do you share? The perspective of Sonia? The perspective of Marina? The perspective of another person? With whom do you identify? Who are you? This is the art.
I have a name on my identity card that is not my name. In the country where I was born I do not have the possibility of having my own name on my official documents. That time has passed. The clock is running, people are awaiting this change.
The incoming president, the conservative Sebastian Piñera, also voiced his support for the film, but did not specifically mention transgender rights. “Tonight, Chilean film reached the stars. Go Chile and a big hug, with pride and emotion, to the whole team behind #UnaMujerFantastica,” he tweeted, using the film’s Spanish title.
During his campaign, Piñera was criticized for suggesting that gender identity “might be corrected over time,” adding that “we need to handle these cases in a responsible manner, in a serious way, not treating gender identity as something that is practically like a shirt that you can change every day.”
As the bill makes its way through congress, transgender rights advocates are hoping the film’s success will help push it forward even during the transition from Bichelet’s socialist government to Piñera’s conservative one.
Spanish speakers can watch Vega’s speech below.