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Out actors Colman Domingo and Jodie Foster get Oscar nods for playing gay characters

From Brendan Fraser in “The Whale” to Charlize Theron in “Monster” and Tom Hanks in “Philadelphia,” there’s a long history of straight actors being recognized for playing queer characters.
Colman Domingo and Jodie Foster.
Colman Domingo in "Rustin" and Jodie Foster in "Nyad."Netflix

Straight actors have a long history of being recognized by the Academy Awards for playing gay characters, but the list of openly LGBTQ actors who have had such recognition is much shorter. This year, however, Colman Domingo and Jodie Foster have joined that exclusive club.

Domingo received a nomination for best actor in a leading role for playing the title character in “Rustin,” Netflix’s biopic about the gay Black civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, an adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. and the architect of the 1963 March on Washington. Among Domingo’s fellow nominees in the category is Bradley Cooper, a straight actor nominated for his portrayal of legendary composer Leonard Bernstein, who had relationships with both men and women, in the Netflix biopic “Maestro.”

Matt Bomer as David Oppenheim gets a foot massage from Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein.
Matt Bomer as David Oppenheim and Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein in a scene from "Maestro."Netflix

Foster won two Academy Awards and was nominated for three others before coming out at the 2013 Golden Globe Awards. She was nominated this year for her supporting role in “Nyad,” yet another Netflix biopic. Foster plays out lesbian Bonnie Stoll, the real-life friend and coach of the title character, long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad. Annette Bening, who has been married to actor Warren Beatty for more than 30 years, was nominated in the best actress in a leading role category for her portrayal of the outspoken lesbian swimmer.

According to The New York Times, Domingo is only the second openly gay man to earn an Oscar nomination for playing a gay character, following the 1999 nomination of Ian McKellen for his leading role in “Gods and Monsters.” McKellen lost to “Life Is Beautiful” actor Roberto Benigni that year. 

The list of seemingly straight male actors receiving Oscar nominations for playing gay characters is much longer. Last year Brendan Fraser won the Academy Award for best actor in a leading role for his portrayal of an obese gay writing teacher in “The Whale.” Rami Malek won for his role as Freddie Mercury in the 2018 film “Bohemian Rhapsody”; Sean Penn for his portrayal of Harvey Milk in 2008’s “Milk”; and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote in 2005’s “Capote.” The gay character Tom Hanks played in 1993’s “Philadelphia,” for which Hanks won the best actor Oscar, was loosely based on a true story.

Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio in “Killers of the Flower Moon”.
Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio in “Killers of the Flower Moon.”Apple TV+

Openly queer women have been nominated for portraying straight characters: Lily Gladstone is up for an Oscar this year for her leading role in “Killers of the Flower Moon,” and Ariana DeBose and Kristen Stewart both received nominations in 2022, with DeBose winning the supporting actress Oscar for her role in “West Side Story.” There have also been a number of seemingly straight actresses who have been nominated — and who have won — for playing queer women, including Charlize Theron, who won an Oscar for 2003’s “Monster,” and Olivia Colman, who won for 2018’s “The Favourite.” But Foster would be the first out woman to be nominated for playing an explicitly gay character (queer-coded characters not included).

If Foster wins in March, she will become part of a very exclusive club of actors who have three Oscars. Currently, this list has only six people on it: Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, Ingrid Bergman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Frances McDormand and Walter Brennan. Only one actor, Katharine Hepburn, has four.

Annette Bening and Jodie Foster
Annette Bening and Jodie Foster in "Nyad."Kimberley French / Netflix

Nick McCarthy, the director of programming for New York City LGBTQ film festival NewFest, which hosted the New York premieres of “Rustin” and “Nyad” in October, called the nominations of Domingo and Foster “joyous and affirming” for the queer community.

“We can only hope that today’s nominations for Colman Domingo and Jodie Foster signal that we’ll see many more LGBTQ+ actors — and LGBTQ+ writers and directors and all crafts — celebrated for telling authentic LGBTQ+ stories in the near future and beyond,” he said.

However, McCarthy noted, “there is still more work ahead.”

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