Already under fire for its failure to nominate any non-white actors, the Academy of Motion Pictures has found itself the target of yet another diversity controversy ahead of the Oscars ceremony on 28 February. Anohni, the first transgender performer ever to receive a nomination, has said she will boycott the event because, unlike her rivals in the Best Original Song category, she was not invited to perform.
The British singer-songwriter was nominated for her song “Manta Ray”, written with the composer J Ralph for the climate change documentary Racing Extinction, which might have been a bright spot amid the clouds of the #OscarsSoWhite furore. But while her fellow nominees Sam Smith, Lady Gaga and The Weeknd were asked to sing at the ceremony (as well as Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, who is not nominated), Anohni was left out of the line-up, a decision she says she found “degrading”.
In a letter posted online, she writes: “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 LA for all the nominee events, but the feelings of embarrassment and anger knocked me back ... There I was, feeling a sting of shame that reminded me of America’s earliest affirmations of my inadequacy as a trans person. I turned around ... and went back home.”
Formerly known as Antony Hegarty, Anohni, 44, fronted the group Antony and the Johnsons, winning the Mercury Music Prize in 2005. In her letter, she said she thought she had been excluded because she was less “commercially viable” than her competitors, not because she was trans. Another nominee, “Simple Song #3” from the film Youth, performed by the South Korean soprano Sumi Jo, has also been omitted from the broadcast, reportedly due to “time constraints”.
Anohni continued: “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 trans woman. It is a system of social oppression and diminished opportunities for trans people ... 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.”
Her sentiments run contrary to the popular narrative that the entertainment industry is enjoying a “transgender moment”, exemplified by the reality star Caitlyn Jenner, by the award-winning Amazon show Transparent and by the Oscar-nominated The Danish Girl.
In boycotting this year’s Oscars, Anohni joins several black film-makers such as Spike Lee and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, who have all declined to attend in protest at the lack of nominees of colour. Creed director Ryan Coogler and Selma director Ava DuVernay will both be spending Oscar night with other celebrities in Flint, Michigan, at a benefit event for residents of the town who have been affected by its recent lead-polluted water scandal.
Anohni had damning words for those celebrities who planned to appear at the ceremony, writing: “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 ... paid to do a little tap dance to occupy you while Rome burns.”