As a performer and songwriter, Dolly Parton has long been an outspoken advocate at the forefront of controversial issues. As far back as 1991, at the height of the AIDS crisis, her Eagle When She Flies LP included the song, “Family,” which noted, rather matter-of-factly, that some families include members who are gay – a simple, yet bold step at the time.
In 2006, Parton embraced and encouraged inclusion by writing the theme tune for Transamerica, a big-screen film about a pre-operative transgender woman meeting and traveling cross-country with the son she never knew. It may have been a risky proposition for a Hollywood film, and perhaps even more so for a country icon, but Parton took it all in stride, in spite of revealing to USA Today at the time that her support of the LGBT community has subjected her to hate mail.
Eleven years ago today, on January 31st, 2006, Transamerica earned lead actress Felicity Huffman an Oscar nomination, and Parton earned one for writing the jaunty, bluegrass-infused “Travelin’ Thru” for the film’s end credits. It was the superstar entertainer’s second mention in the category after her 9 to 5 theme song from 1980 was nominated (losing to “Fame”). The “Travelin’ Thru” lyrics reflected the lead character’s struggle of identity and acceptance, with such lines as “I’m out here on my journey, trying to make the most of it/ I’m a puzzle I must figure out where all my pieces fit.”
Transamerica was not the only country-music-related nominee represented during awards season. At the 78th Academy Awards that March, with five nominations, Walk the Line, the love story of Johnny and June Carter Cash, was one of the year’s top contenders. Huffman would lose the Oscar to Reese Witherspoon for her spirited portrayal of the singer-comedienne. Parton, meanwhile, who was also nominated for a Golden Globe and a Grammy for “Travelin’ Thru,” had lost the Golden Globe to “A Love That Will Never Grow Old,” which was performed by her Trio partner Emmylou Harris and featured on the soundtrack of the blockbuster film, Brokeback Mountain, which itself would lose the Best Picture Oscar to Crash.
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When it came time for the Academy Awards, Parton was among the three nominees for Best Original Song, along with “In the Deep” from Crash, and “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” from Hustle & Flow, and she performed the tune onstage with great relish, introducing herself by shouting, “All the way from Hollywood to Dollywood, what do you think about that?” As the song ends, Parton has the room full of stars and showbiz types, including actress Amy Adams and screen legend Jack Nicholson, clapping along. But, as it turned out, it was hard out on the Oscar stage for a country star, as Parton lost to the Hustle & Flow tune, performed by rappers Three 6 Mafia and future Empire star Taraji P. Henson.
In a somewhat prescient bit of movie magic, just five years later Parton would appear in another LGBT-inclusive feature called Hollywood to Dollywood, a documentary film about gay twin brothers Gary and Larry Lane, who traveled from their home in L.A. to Parton’s Smoky Mountains theme park to hand-deliver a screenplay they had written with her in mind. She has continued to champion LGBT rights and in the wake of North Carolina’s controversial, so-called “bathroom bill” – which forced transgender individuals to use restrooms associated with their gender assigned at birth – Parton posted a video in which she said, “I think everybody should be treated with respect. I don’t judge people. I try not to get too caught up in all the controversy of things. I hope that everybody gets a chance to be who and what they are.”
In a bit of positive news for the trans community, just yesterday, the Boy Scouts of America announced they will change their enrollment policy for new scouts, immediately allowing transgender boys to become members.