Transgender Oscar Nominee Blasts Academy Over ‘Degrading’ Decision to Cut Songs

After the Oscar producers opt not to include her song on the show, singer-songwriter Anohni says she’s too embarrassed and angry to attend

Anohni, a transgender singer and songwriter who was nominated for an Oscar for co-writing the song “Manta Ray” under the name Antony Hegarty, has published a wrenching essay detailing her “embarrassment and anger” at the Oscar producers’ decision not to include her song on the telecast.

And while she does not claim that she’s being excluded because she’s transgender, she does call it part of “a system of social oppression and diminished opportunities for transpeople.”

In an essay on her website, Oscar nominee Anohni — best known as the singer of the celebrated indie group Antony and the Johnsons — described her excitement at the nomination, and at being only the second openly transgender person to be honored. (The first was a British film composer, Angela Morley, in the 1970s.)

After weeks of confusion, though, she learned that show producers Reginald Hudlin and David Hill “seemed to have decided to stage performances only by the singers who were deemed commercially viable.”

The nominated singers who will be performing on the Oscar show are Lady Gaga (“Til It Happens to You” from “The Hunting Ground”), Sam Smith (“Writing’s on the Wall” from “Spectre”) and The Weeknd (“Earned It” from “Fifty Shades of Grey”). “Manta Ray” will not be performed, and neither will classical composer David Lang’s art song “Simple Song #3” from “Youth,” which is performed in a climactic scene in the film by South Korean soprano Sumi Jo.

Anohni wrote that it was “degrading” to learn that her song would be excluded, even as she learned that Dave Grohl, who is not an Oscar nominee, would be performing on the show.

Still, she said, friends and advisors told her that attending the Oscars would be good for her career.

“Last night I tried to force myself to get on the plane to fly to L.A. for all the nominee events, but the feelings of embarrassment and anger knocked me back, and I couldn’t get on the plane,” she wrote in the essay published on Thursday. “I imagined how it would feel for me to sit amongst all those Hollywood stars, some of the brave ones approaching me with sad faces and condolences. There I was, feeling a sting of shame that reminded me of America’s earliest affirmations of my inadequacy as a transperson. I turned around at the airport and went back home.

“As if to rub salt into the wound, the next morning the Oscars added that I was transgendered to the trivia page of their website.”

As a result, Anohni said, “I have decided not to attend the Academy Awards this election year. I will not be lulled into submission with a few more well manufactured, feel-good ballads and a bit of good old fashioned T. and A.”

In our Oscar predictions on Wednesday, TheWrap took note of the decision to only feature three of the five song nominees on the Oscar show and wrote this:

“It is shameful that the Oscar producers are putting Lady Gaga, The Weeknd and Sam Smith on the show performing their songs, but have opted not to include performances of ‘Simple Song #3’ and ‘Manta Ray.’ Antony Hegarty, the co-writer and performer of ‘Manta Ray,’ is one of the most glorious voices and most compelling performers in popular music, and the song by Hegarty and J. Ralph is a stunning lullaby to the planet that serves as the heart of the powerful documentary ‘Racing Extinction.’ Not only does it deserve a spot on the show, it deserves a spot in the winner’s circle.”

The song’s composer, J. Ralph, has been here before: He was nominated three years ago for the song “Before My Time,” and that year’s Oscar producers also opted to forgo performances of his song and one other nominee.

In her essay, Anohni said that she does not think the decision was made because she is transgender, but because she is relatively unknown.

“But if you trace the trail of breadcrumbs, the deeper truth of it is impossible to ignore,” she wrote. “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.”

Despite the fact that the snub was clearly related to fame rather than gender, it puts the show in an uncomfortable position at a time when the Academy is under fire for not being diverse enough. And the  question facing AMPAS, particularly its Music Branch, is whether they should continue to allow show producers to play favorites with the song nominees.

TheWrap has asked the Academy and the show producers for comment on Anohni’s essay. They did not respond.

Excerpts from Anonhi’s statement are below. The full text is available at the Antony and the Johnsons website.

I am the only transgendered performer ever to have been nominated for an Academy Award, and for that I thank the artists who nominated me. (There was a trans songwriter nominee named Angela Morley in the early ’70s who did some great work behind the scenes.) I was in Asia when I found out the news. I rushed home to prepare something, in case the music nominees would be asked to perform. Everyone was calling with excited congratulations. 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. Composer David Lang’s song “Simple Song #3” performed by South Korean soprano Sumi Jo was also omitted….

Everyone told me that I still ought to attend, that a walk down the red carpet would still be “good for my career.”

Last night I tried to force myself to get on the plane to fly to L.A. for all the nominee events, but the feelings of embarrassment and anger knocked me back, and I couldn’t get on the plane. I imagined how it would feel for me to sit amongst all those Hollywood stars, some of the brave ones approaching me with sad faces and condolences. There I was, feeling a sting of shame that reminded me of America’s earliest affirmations of my inadequacy as a transperson. I turned around at the airport and went back home.

As if to rub salt into the wound, the next morning the Oscars added that I was transgendered to the trivia page of their website.

I want to be clear — I know that I wasn’t excluded from the performance directly because I am transgendered. 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.

I was told during my 20s and 30s there was no chance that someone like me could have a career in music, and this perspective was reiterated by so many industry “professionals” and media outlets that I lost count. I almost gave up. Thankfully, fellow artists like Lou Reed advocated for me so intensely that I got a foothold despite the worst intentions of others. In that sense, I am one of the luckiest people in the world.

I enjoy that wild and reckless exhilaration that comes from naming my truth as best as I can; it is what Nina Simone might have called a “boon.” The truth is that I was not groomed for stardom and watered down for your enjoyment. As a transgendered artist, I have always occupied a place outside of the mainstream. I have gladly paid a price for speaking my truth in the face of loathing and idiocy…

So I have decided not to attend the Academy Awards this election year. I will not be lulled into submission with a few more well manufactured, feel-good ballads and a bit of good old fashioned T. and A. They are going to try to convince us that they have our best interests at heart by waving flags for identity politics and fake moral issues. But don’t forget that many of these celebrities are the trophies of billionaire corporations whose only intention it is to manipulate you into giving them your consent and the last of your money. They have been paid to do a little tap dance to occupy you while Rome burns.

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