Nicole Maines has won the top acting prize at the Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival.
Maines, who graced the June/July cover of The Advocate after becoming TV's first trans superhero on CW's Supergirl, was honored Sunday with the Grand Jury Award for Best Performance. In her film that screened at Outfest, Bit, the actress starred as Laurel, a trans teenager who finds herself recruited into a gang of queer female vampires after she moves to Los Angeles from her small town.
In their remarks Sunday at the awards ceremony, the jurors praised Maines's versatility as a performer, as well as the role itself, which defied the tropes tied to many transgender narratives.
"In this star-making turn, our Best Performance winner seamlessly navigates a complex world, which sees her transitioning from comedy to drama to thriller, often within a single scene," said Andria Wilson, a juror and the executive director of Inside Out, Toronto's LGBTQ film festival.
"Her magnetic, authentic, and anchoring performance makes it impossible to imagine another actress in this role and left us eager to see more opportunities like this in narrative film and television."
In the entertainment industry at large, it not commonplace for major awards to be awarded to entertainers in "genre" films outside of the drama category. Bit is a horror/comedy that pays homage to predecessors like The Craft and The Lost Boys. The other winners in the jury's U.S. narrative category, Tu Me Manques and Jules of Light and Dark, centered around topics like a gay man's suicide and queer loneliness in rural America, respectively.
Maines, in tweets following the announcement of her win, said she was "stunned" and "over the moon" by the jury's selection. On Monday, Maines sent an exclusive statement to The Advocate thanking her fellow cast members and Bit's director, Brad Michael Elmore, for helping to elevate her performance.
“I’m so proud to have my performance acknowledged by Outfest," Maines said. "Bit is so close to my heart and having it be received so well feels amazing. We had such an amazingly talented cast and crew and they made scenes feel fun and natural. Brad’s writing and direction was phenomenal and I have to thank him for trusting me with this role. They are all my family and I couldn’t have done any of it without their help and talent.”
Elmore explained his feminist take on the horror genre at the film's Outfest screening on Friday.
"I wanted to make an R-rated movie for young girls — they're usually coded for teenage boys," he said. Citing The Lost Boys as well as Jem and the Holograms as influences, Elmore said he set out to make "something fun that was still lurid."
In addition to being a bloody good time, Bit is also a milestone in queer female visibility in the horror genre, as Maines outlined at the Outfest Q&A.
"It feels really incredible to be making projects for women, for queer women, showcasing queer women, casting queer talent. It feels so incredible," she told the crowd at the TCL Chinese Theater. "I remember when there was no representation like that on television and there was no representation in film. And so to see these characters coming to life and to see these projects being made, and having people who are using their privilege to lift up queer people and help tell queer stories gives me a little bit of hope in this crazy world."
Maines also explained how Laurel marks a breakthrough in trans representation.
"What I love about Laurel is that she is written three-dimensionally," Maines said. "She is an entire character and I think a lot of us here appreciate that her story arc, her character arc, and her development takes place completely outside of her gender identity, which I think for a lot of trans characters in media, we haven't seen a lot of that yet."
"We see a lot of our stories revolving around what's between our legs. And that's not fair," Maines continued. "So with Brad, he wrote this really incredible, multi-faceted character ... who isn't always right, isn't always wrong. She's very allowed to make shitty decisions, which she does make rather a habit of. And I just love the character so much... and I love getting to be covered in blood all the time."
And while the macabre filled many of the scenes in Bit, there are also themes like family rejection, homelessness of LGBTQ young people, sex work, and found family that will resonate with queer audiences — as well as a few of the cast members.
"There's a couple of us onstage who come from a different walk of life," said Friday Chamberlain, who portrays Roya in Bit. "Obviously, there's a lot of people in this room who maybe didn't get along with their parents when they were in their early to late teens and had to strike out on their own. So a lot of the dialogue, a lot of the inspiration for the characters come from Brad, come from us, come from those who did sleep under bridges and those who did have to figure it out."
"Every once in awhile you try to do something that's a little better than you," Elmore concluded in the Q&A. "That was it."
Watch a clip from Bit, which also stars Char Diaz, Diana Hopper, Greg Hill, James Paxton, M.C. Gainey, and Zolee Griggs, below.