FINALIST: LUCA GUADAGNINO
Out director Luca Guadagnino’s lush adaptation of André Aciman’s queer-themed novel Call Me by Your Name, about a 17-year-old’s romantic/sexual awakening with a 24-year-old over the course of the summer in northern Italy in 1983, has already earned a Golden Globe nomination and it could well be on its way to a Best Picture Oscar nomination. An auteur who combines the naturalism of location shooting, long shots, and sweeping pans that allow the action to unfold seamlessly with a formalist sensibility that includes a focus on doorways and window panes as frames within the frame, Guadagnino has delivered possibly the first queer-themed film from an out director that both elevates the art of filmmaking and is beloved by audiences for the visceral romance between Elio (a revelational Timothée Chalamet) and Armie Hammer’s Oliver, a statuesque depiction of male beauty if ever there were one.
Already a force to be reckoned with in his native Italy, Guadagnino had a couple of features under his belt before he directed his breakthrough 2010 film I Am Love, which starred his friend and frequent collaborator Tilda Swinton and explored some of Call Me by Your Name’s territory with its focus on location shooting and a bourgeous family forever changed by romance and passion. The director’s star continued to rise with his first English-language film, A Bigger Splash, in 2016, which starred Swinton and Ralph Fiennes. Todd Haynes’s deftly crafted queer romance Carol earned Oscar nods for its stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, and Gus Van Sant’s biopic with a queer political bent, Milk, earned a screenwriting Oscar for Dustin Lance Black, a Best Actor win for its lead Sean Penn, and a Best Picture nomination. But Guadagnino is poised to become the highest-profile out director to earn awards and attention for a film about desire and love between men. At the very least, the images Gaudagnino has carefully crafted to depict Elio and Oliver's love affair will be shown over and over again on network television throughout awards season.
FINALIST: LENA WAITHE
Lena Waithe made history this year at the Emmy Awards by becoming the first African-American woman to win for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series. The lesbian writer, actress, and producer earned this honor for co-penning an episode of Netflix’s Master of None with Aziz Ansari, “Thanksgiving,” which was inspired by her own coming-out to her family.
The win was a bellwether moment for Hollywood, which had chosen to honor a writer and a storyline that advocate for intersectional identities. Waithe, in another win for visibility, also took the opportunity to send a message to the LGBT community in her acceptance speech. “The things that make us different — those are our superpowers,” she declared to the world and us.
This triumph established Waithe as a face of change in the entertainment industry. White straight people may still dominate the narratives in mainstream films, but the reality of America is far more complex. Waithe, through her storytelling and roles, is helping to push Hollywood in the direction of reality.
But Master of None, in which she also costars as the queer character Denise, is far from the only mark Waithe has made in Tinseltown. She served as a producer of Justin Simien’s prescient film Dear White People — and is set to appear in its critically acclaimed Netflix adaptation of the same name. She also created a Showtime series, The Chi, which tackles police corruption and violence within communities of color in her native South Side of Chicago. Her web series, Twenties, which centers on a queer black woman, may also soon see new life on television.
But perhaps most admirably, Waithe has served as a collaborator, mentor, and possibility model to an up-and-coming generation of queer people and people of color in Hollywood. As Waithe told Out magazine, which recently honored her as Artist of the Year, “I hoped that they could see through me that when you tell your story, when you live your authentic life, only good things will come from it."