The 2018 Oscar nominations marked an historic occasion for LGBTQ visibility on film — specifically the “T” part of the community. While A Fantastic Woman, starring trans actor Daniela Vega, earned a spot in the Best Foreign Language Film category, Strong Island‘s Yance Ford became the first trans director to be nominated for an Oscar.
“I think that everybody out there should know that there is a generation of trans directors who are coming for their Oscars,” Ford tells EW after his film received a nod for Best Documentary Feature. “So this might be the first, but it certainly won’t be the last.”
Strong Island, Ford’s first feature-length film, is a documentary on the death of his brother, William Ford, a high school teacher shot and killed on April 7, 1992. “The police had turned my brother into the prime suspect in his own murder,” Ford says in this unflinching, cinematic portrait of a family tormented by injustice.
“The very exciting thing for me when I think about history is that this film is a correction to the historical record of my brother’s life,” Ford says, “and if this nomination helps to magnify that and if by making history I helped to magnify that, then… it’s all good as far as I’m concerned.”
Running on lack of sleep from anxiety the night before, Ford sat on his couch in New York Tuesday morning with his partner, Amanda, as he waited for Andy Serkis to announce the documentary category.
Video of their ecstatic response has already been making the rounds online, though Ford clarifies, “I think that there was a split second where the card popped up slightly before the hosts read the name and so my partner and I were already screaming on the couch when we saw the name of the film and I was like, ‘Wait, wait, wait! Did they actually say Strong Island?’”
Other trans artists to receive Oscar nominations in years past include songwriter Angela Morley for scoring The Slipper and the Rose: The Story of Cinderella and The Little Prince, singer Anohni for “Manta Ray” from the documentary Racing Extinction, and visual effects artist Paige Warner for helping to develop ILM’s facial performance-capture solving system.
GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis called Tuesday “a big day for LGBTQ-inclusive films at the Academy Awards.”
“Films like The Shape of Water, A Fantastic Woman, Lady Bird, and Call Me By Your Name not only have complex, detailed, and moving portrayals, but prove that audiences and critics alike are hungry for stories which embrace diversity,” she said in a statement after the Oscar nominations were announced. “These important stories move the needle forward on LGBTQ acceptance at a time when media images are often the front lines for marginalized communities.”
As Ford rides in a cab into Manhattan to celebrate his Oscar nom with his sister, the historic significance of this moment is “still sinking in” for the filmmaker, though he’s “honored” and “humbled” to be “that person to cross that threshold.”
“Any first timer, any emerging filmmaker, anybody in film school who looks at this nomination and is inspired by it in any way — whether it’s because they lost someone to gun violence or because they’re LGBTQ — they need to find their story and find their storytelling style and use that and not ever doubt that,” Ford says. “Instincts are a really important guide for any artist, but particularly filmmakers because it takes a lot to stay true to your instincts as a storyteller.”
Strong Island is now available to stream on Netflix.