The Academy Awards have just erased the silver lining of an awards season that has been rightfully dominated by stories of omission and institutional injustice.
Lost in the justifiable furor over #OscarsSoWhite is the fact that a transgender person has received an Academy Award nomination for the first time since songwriter Angela Morley earned two in the mid-Seventies. Mercury Prize-winning musician Anohni (née Antony Hegarty) has been recognized for her song “Manta Ray,” the J. Ralph duet she was commissioned to co-write and perform for the climate crisis documentary Racing Extinction.
But when it comes to this year’s Oscars, even nominees aren’t safe from being othered out of the ceremony. Squandering a golden opportunity to recognize and champion diversity in the artistic community (and allow the world a few minutes to indulge in one of its most mellifluous voices), the Academy neglected to invite Anohni to perform during the telecast. As a result, Anohni has declared that she will not be attending the ceremony as part of a statement she posted on her website on Thursday. “I have decided not to attend the Academy Awards this election year,” she writes. “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.”
This is the most recent development of a story that has been unfolding in public view over the last week. On Saturday, it was reported that Anohni was one of two Best Original Song nominees who wasn’t invited to perform during the telecast (the other was the duo of David Lang and Sumi Jo, whose Simple Song #3 was commissioned for Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth). The slight, as per the Academy’s usual style of sharing their shortsightedness, was only possible to glean via omission — the news had to be parsed from a press release boasting that nominees Lady Gaga, Sam Smith, and the Weeknd would be singing on air.
Anohni, frustrated by the complete lack of communication from the Academy, took it upon herself to explain why she’s been convinced to ignore the Hollywood hoopla and stay put in NYC. “Last night I tried to force myself to get on the plane to fly to L.A. for all the nominee events,” she writes, “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 transperson. I turned around at the airport and went back home.”
The next morning, Anohni observes, the Oscars added her gender to the “trivia” page of their website (that detail appears to have been removed).
Anohni’s impassioned letter goes on to make clear that she doesn’t feel entitled to her time in the spotlight, nor does she believe that her gender was “directly” responsible for her exclusion from the show. “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.” Anohni, in her graciousness, may not recall the 2006 ceremony in which rap group Three 6 Mafia performed a song about pimping, and then promptly won the Oscar for it.
Nevertheless, Anohni doesn’t exactly let the Academy off the hook. On the contrary, she uses the dire truth behind her treatment to reinforce the urgency of her work: “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 feminist child, and later as an androgynous transwoman.” And then, diagnosing the Oscars as one symptom of a broader institutional failure: “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.”
Undaunted by the blowback she might receive from being so candid about her frustrations, Anohni bluntly states that she has “Gladly paid a price for speaking my truth in the face of loathing and idiocy.”
Visit Anohni’s website to read the statement in full. Hopelessness, Anohni’s fifth LP, will be released in May.
The Oscars, hosted by Chris Rock, will air on February 28th at 7 pm. Dave Grohl, who is not nominated for anything, is also scheduled to perform during the telecast.