I deeply appreciate Ellen DeGeneres helping to make us all laugh while queer history was erased at the 86th Academy Awards last night, but in the harsh light of post-pizza-binging day, I can’t even really look at Jared Leto or Matthew McConaughey right now.
If you actually managed to cringe your way through Dallas Buyers Club so that you could have an informed opinion on all the reasons why Jared Leto shouldn’t have even been cast (let alone be Golden Globe- and Oscar-nominated for his performance) as a transgender woman, then we commend you. But also, if you were one of those people, then you probably walked straight out of the nearest window within the first ten minutes of last night’s Academy Awards telecast, because the first Oscar out the gate went to Jordan goddamned Catalano and his caricatured portrayal of Rayon, a transwoman who was played as falsely as her homographic textile counterpart would suggest.
(Leaving aside the queer politics of casting a cisgender actor to play a transgender woman — it simply wasn’t good acting. He looked like a bro, playing a twink, playing a drag queen, which is like, not the most positive portrayal of a transwoman that comes to mind. Also, his attempt at “limp wrist” made him look arthritic, and that’s fairly novice-level body work that an actor receives pretty early on in Real Acting Training. But I digress.)
However, if you walked out the window after the Best Supporting Actor announcement was made, then you missed the hot speech mess in which Leto acknowledged completely unrelated political unrest in Venezuela and “The Ukraine” as part of his acceptance, and vaguely dedicated the award to “those of you out there who have ever felt injustice because of who you are or who you love.” For the record, he’s never actually used the word “transgender” in any acceptance speech for any accolade he’s ever won for the role. Rather, the Globes speech recognized “the Rayons of the world.” It’s like he’s physically unable to invoke the community of people which he was misguidedly tasked with representing.
So here’s a brief list of the people Jared Leto forgot to mention, if you, like me, are in desperate need to rewrite last night:
1. Calpernia Addams, who received only a cursory “to Callie Addams” shoutout during the rattling-off-of-names portion of his speech. She’s the out, transgender ex-Navy field medic who “trained” Leto on various aspects of transition and helped him to better understand what life as a transwoman might be like. She probably deserved something along the lines of “all the respect and gratitude in the world to her for opening up her life and her heart to me.”
2. All the transwomen he studied for the role, whose grace, bravery, fragility, and ferocity he could never hope to fully embody.
3. The transwomen who are fired, made homeless, survivors of sexual and physical violence, disproportionately and wrongfully incarcerated, and murdered every day “because of who you are or who you love,” while Leto, a cisgender actor, gets accolades for portraying them. Perhaps thanks to them most of all.
Fast forward three hours, and Matthew McConaughey was up for Best Leading Actor in a Motion Picture for his role as Ron Woodruff (who, in Dallas Buyers Club, was portrayed as a homophobic, transphobic, hetero-alpha male, while in real life he, A: didn’t present as homophobic at all until his final interview with DBC’s screenwriter just before his death in 1992, and B: was probably bisexual), which he also won.
As it turns out, Jared Leto inexplicably wound up giving the better speech of the two, since he actually acknowledged AIDS victims (“And this for the 36 million people who have lost the battle to AIDS…tonight I stand here in front of the world with you and for you”). Whereas Matthew McConaughey spent 41 seconds thanking God. Yeah. Because God is the person you should be thanking in excess for your hetero fantasia on national themes.
“There are many aspects of the script that I thought were a problematic rewriting of history,” said How To Survive a Plague director David France in a HuffPost Live segment about Dallas Buyers Club’s take on the AIDS epidemic. Come to think of it, we would have been absolutely fine with McConaughey cribbing parts of France’s interview for his acceptance speech, replacing the words “we” and “our” with “they” and “their”:
“History will recall that the queer community did incredible things around AIDS. They brought a virus to its knees. And we did it, our community did it. Trans* people, lesbians, gay men did it. Working together, and with no one else helping. And to take that heroic and like, quintessentially American story and give it to somebody else is frustrating and wrong…It’s not correct.”
And even setting the queer community aside (DO YOU SEE HOW LOW I AM SETTING THE BAR FOR YOU, MATT?), McConaughey could — and, in the Twitterverse’s collective opinion, probably should — have thanked activist organizations like ACTUP, who advocated for legislation, medical research, treatment, and policies designed to benefit AIDS patients.
But, instead, we were delivered an important reminder in a big way about why it’s significant for queer stories to be told by queer people, and using queer narratives. Because instead, the gents of Dallas Buyers Club gave 40 seconds to God and thanked 30 Seconds to Mars.
Correction: A previous version of this column suggested that Jared Leto did not thank Calpernia Addams in his acceptance speech. Leto did, in fact, acknowledge “Callie Addams.” The text has been updated to reflect this correction.