This awards season, playing LGBTQ icons pays off

When the 2024 Golden Globe Awards nominees were announced Monday, multiple big-name actors received nods for their roles as notable LGBTQ figures of the past century. Among the recognized biopics, “Maestro,” directed by and starring Bradley Cooper, led the race with four nominations, including best actor in a motion picture drama. But not far behind were two more big-budget Netflix features from 2023: Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s “Nyad” and George C. Wolfe’s “Rustin,” which each earned its stars acting nominations. 

“Maestro,” Cooper’s second directorial effort, is a stylistically ambitious Leonard Bernstein biopic that also stars Carey Mulligan in a show-stealing performance as the broadway actor Felicia Montealegre Bernstein. In the film, Cooper as Bernstein looks back on his professional life — leading the New York Philharmonic and birthing musicals such as “West Side Story” — and his struggles to balance family, fame and his fraught relationship with his sexuality. Under the consultation of the Metropolitan Opera’s music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and Bernstein’s children, Cooper spent years preparing to bring the legendary composer to life. His efforts were rewarded Monday when the film picked up a best actor nomination, along with spots in best actress in a motion picture drama, best motion picture director and best motion picture drama.

Four years after winning an Oscar for their 2018 documentary, “Free Solo,” Chin and Vasarhelyi, a husband-and-wife filmmaking team, released their narrative debut this year in “Nyad.” The film, starring Annette Bening and Jodie Foster, centers on Diana Nyad’s 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida at the age of 64, which captured the world’s attention in 2013. Bening, as Nyad, and Foster, as Nyad’s best friend and coach, Bonnie Stoll, play two women whose friendship helps them overcome jellyfish-infested waters and the swimmer’s alienating personality to achieve a history-making feat of athleticism. Their memorable performances earned Bening a spot in best actress in a motion picture drama, as well as a best supporting actress nomination for Foster.

“Rustin” was just one of a few notable films starring Colman Domingo this year, but it was the only one to earn him a Golden Globes nomination. The buzzy Bayard Rustin biopic helmed by Wolfe, a Tony-winning playwright and filmmaker, primarily takes place in the weeks leading up to the 1963 March on Washington, which would become the civil rights leader’s crowning career achievement. Matching the jazzy soundtrack and big performances of the film’s ensemble, Domingo, as Rustin, delivers a high-energy rendition of an organizer overcoming homophobia and racism to launch the most memorable large-scale protest in U.S. history. Domingo’s nomination for best actor in a motion picture drama is one of two nods for the film, which is also named in the best original song category for Lenny Kravitz’s “Road to Freedom.”

Outside of the world of biopics, films and TV shows with queer themes and made by LGBTQ creators made gains across the board. Although Domingo got passed over for his role in “The Color Purple,” the film — a more explicitly queer adaptation of Alice Walker’s 1982 epistolary novel — picked up two acting nominations. Andrew Scott earned a spot in best actor in a motion picture drama for his role in Andrew Haigh’s deeply personal film about grief, “All of Us Strangers.” And “Fellow Travelers,” “The Morning Show,” “Dead Ringers” and others took spots in the top TV and anthology categories.

If the three big biopics manage to deliver wins, it’ll be a boon for Netflix. But the streaming giant will have to overcome stiff competition in Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things,” Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” and, of course, Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” (the most-nominated film, with nine total nods, including one for Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell’s original song “What Was I Made For?”). 

The 81st annual Golden Globes air on CBS and Paramount+ on Jan. 7, marking the first ceremony since the dissolution of the embattled Hollywood Foreign Press Association.