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Gay Performances the Oscars Forgot

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We need The Brandos to bring the love of movies into line with social consciousness. This inventory connects Oscar-watchers with movie history. It is named to honor the actor who most who revolutionized sexuality and spiritual identity by rousing everybody’s gay feelings. Current protests calling for Oscar diversity neglect our responsibility to know what is valuable in gay and movie history. The Brandos, saluting great neglected gay screen performances, bring the Oscars out of the closet of Hollywood homophobia and bad taste. 

Agnes Moorehead, Caged (1950)

As a prison warden who cares, Moorehead brought no-nonsense empathy to a portrayal of a bureaucrat pledged to maintain civility in a big bird cage of suffering, simmering females. Everyone enjoys Hope Emerson’s bodacious, exploitative, candy-eating matron (the inspiration for Queen Latifah’s Matron Mama Morton in Chicago) but Moorehead’s lawful gay integrity was more progressive.

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Anne Baxter, All About Eve (1950)

Yeah, she’s a fame whore as well as a manipulative cock-tease. Eve Harrington is the cuntiest performance in Hollywood history, unafraid to go after what she wants—and go through anyone in her way, including super diva Margo Channing/Bette Davis. How could so many All About Eve fans miss the moment Eve plots revenge and enlists a gal pal? They climb a staircase, arms around each other, in lesbian cahoots. Filmmaker Joseph Mankiewicz’s awareness of the facts of showbiz conspiracy are more sophisticated than TV’s silly SmashAll About Eve depicted gay female sexuality fearlessly and sympathetically. Note the Sapphic sisterhood of the final scene (“I call myself Pheobe”). Baxter contributed fierce drag queen melodramatics. Take that, Cate Blanchett in Carol.

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Anthony Perkins, Psycho (1960)

Like most conquerors, Psycho’s Norman Bates was both liberator and killer. The serial-killer role liberated Anthony Perkins, one of the finest actors of the late-20th century and subsequently a fascinating figure of sexual fluidity. Perkins’ performance has become an indelible part of popular culture, making Norman’s sexual confusion both baffling and empathic. Norman isn’t a figure of queer shock—after all Alfred Hitchcock himself said that the clue to the film’s plot is in the shot of Norman/Perkins ascending a staircase with a noticeably feminine hip-swish. Repeated viewings of Psycho makes one empathetic with Norman’s difference—not his murderousness, but his sensitivity to Marion (Janet Leigh as the film’s sexy criminal and first psycho) and his panic towards Sam (stalwart John Gavin). This performance marked Perkins’ transition from Hollywood juvenile to complicated man, an unparalleled career. A coin toss determines whether Perkin’s fey complexity should have won out over that year’s Oscar winner Burt Lancaster’s robust masculinity in Elmer Gantry, but time is on Perkins’ side. Norman Bates is the most iconographic characterization not to win an Oscar.

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Rod Steiger, The Sergeant (1968)

Just before Stonewall, Hollywood addressed gayness as a social dilemma and Steiger (immediately after winning a Best Actor Oscar for In the Heat of the Night) answered the call. As closeted Sgt. Callan hopelessly in love with dreamboat John Phillip Law, Steiger paid tribute to what he knew about multifaceted humanity, doing honor to his Actors Studio background. Decades later, his character’s tragedy is felt as sympathy. Prior popular campaigns against bullying, Steiger was telling the world to feel.

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Chris Sarandon, Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

This is the first transsexual characterization to actually receive an Oscar nomination. But the Academy preferred to pay tribute to vaudeville veteran George Burns (The Sunshine Boys). Sarandon’s telephone scene with Al Pacino (as a bisexual man who robs a bank to pay for his lover’s sexual reassignment surgery) is totally moving. It’s one of the great duets in movie history.

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Antonio Fargas, Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976)

They used to be called “Snow Queens” but Fargas made the black queen’s infatuation with white boys a rare cinematic characterization. Fargas’ bold performance as a romantic black hipster showed an understanding of cultural and racial complexity. Fargas rectified the caricature of self-loathing in the poisonous documentary Portrait of Jason. Fargas’ beautiful performance desperately needs to be rediscovered to combat cruel, unfeeling, politically correct stereotypes.

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Geraldine Chaplin, A Wedding (1978)

Chaplin’s wedding planner in Altman’s Middle America satire regrets “I didn’t get to kiss the bride.” And she means it. Her poignant lament made her part of the American community that has always been Altman’s great subject.

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Glenda Jackson, H.E.A.L.T.H. (1980)

Imagine a sexually ambiguous political candidate. That was one of Robert Altman’s dares in this hilarious political satire. And Jackson, the sexually omnivorous Oscar winner for Women in Love, enacted the challenge. As Isabella Garnell, Jackson forced a political convention to take a stand on her sexually ambiguous, obviously gay, identity. 2016 politics have not yet caught up to H.E.A.L.T.H and Jackson’s boldness is missed. Take that, Carol.

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Bronson Pinchot, Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

In 1984, Pinchot made an open secret hilarious. As the gay hotelier Serge, he memorably bonded with Eddie Murphy’s cop and crossed boundaries. Murphy’s Axel was prone to homophobic put-downs but Pinchot brought out the cop’s sense of humor (his humanity). A post-Stonewall update of the great Franklin Pangborn (look him up), Pinchot was irresistible and undeniable.

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Catherine Deneuve, Les Voleurs/Thieves (1996)

As lesbian philosopher Marie, Deneuve trades her heterosexual romantic image into both a sexual and emotional mystery. She makes Andre Techine’s film a profound study of a troubled gay intellectual. Techine goes deep—deeper than simple positivity—into the way gay people can be both smart and complex. Take that, Carol.

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