To a generation of queer Gex X girls, Tatum O’Neal is nothing less than an icon. She won an Academy Award for Paper Moon at 10 (the youngest person to ever win a competitive Oscar) and then starred in The Bad News Bears, Little Darlings, and National Velvet — all films that toyed with what a girl could (or could not be) be in the 1970s and ‘80s.
She may be best known to LGBTQ audiences for coming out as one of us in recent years (though she eschews labels), at 57 she’s continued surprising fans as an actress on TV (including a turn on RuPaul’s Drag Race) and movies (most recently playing a doctor in Cloris Leachman and Olympia Dukakis’s film, Not to Forget).
Now, O’Neal can be found in The CROWN With a SHADOW, the new animated short film by Tribeca Film Festival award-winner JB Ghuman, Jr, which makes its world premiere at Outfest Film Festival Sunday, August 15. The fantastical short flick tells the tale of a transgender fish, based on the real-world gender morphing Pink Skunk Fish, a species that changes sex from male to female during its lifespan.
O'Neal voices the film’s antagonist, a bully shark, in the artsy mixed-media film voiced by Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman) with a supporting cast of characters primarily voiced by trans and nonbinary performers including a trans male squid with top surgery scars voiced by nonbinary LGBTQI+ actor iRAWniQ.
I love that you play the bully shark. It seems against type. Did you ask for the character?
No, I didn’t. But thank you. JB, the director, approached me.
With all the work in the world, what drew you to this little film about a transgender/nonbinary fish?
We all share this planet. It’s not about what’s different in the world. It’s about telling a good story. What’s natural or not natural makes no difference, as the story tells.
It’s interesting it’s an animated film. Do you think it’ll be an easier way for non-trans people to hear about gender differences?
I don’t know. I’ve been around a long time. JB is an interesting man and he’s the one who’s trying to get this message out but I hope it works.
Why do you think we need stories like The Crown With a Shadow?
Because the world needs stories that open their minds. I’m learning myself as I work on this about things I never knew.
Right now 33 states have introduced over 100 anti-transgender bills and the murder rate of trans people is at an all-time high this year. How do you think allies can combat that backlash to our trans community?
By going forward and not back. The world goes back and forth and we have to make sure we push it in the right direction. All of us, from all sides. We’re a single species.
Since I have you, let me tell you Little Darlings was one of the earliest films where I saw myself and I’ve been a fan of your work since then. When you talked to the media about dating women, I was thrilled. If you don’t mind I’ve love to ask two questions: how do you identify now? Queer? Bisexual? Someone who hates labels?
Someone who hates labels. How 'bout that? And thank you, very sweet of you.
Kristy McNichol and Tatum O'Neal, stars of the pivotal '80s teen feminist film Little Darlings, have been lifelong friends. Here they are in 2014.
Is there a larger message to be found in the fact that both the stars of Little Darlings are women who love women and did a generation of little queer girls just see that before you did?
Correct, there is a message. First of all, I was 12 when I started so it was a little bit early for me. I didn’t quite know then what was going on. But as I got older, I started to understand. Today, I just hope the film teaches young girls to go in any direction they want.