Playing Gay (Or Sexually Controversial) And Awards Season

As an aside in a Deadline piece about the deals coming out of the Toronto Film Festival, Pete Hammond notes something interesting about the difference between how studios planned to get Colin Firth and Michael Fassbender Academy Awards:

Most buyers I talk to are irritated by some sellers’ insistence that their film be released this year in time for Oscar consideration. That’s a tall order and leaves little time for creating a marketing campaign, much less an awards strategy. Nevertheless, that was one of the demands made by the sellers of the controversial Shame during negotiations. Fox Searchlight agreed, others didn’t. In fact I was told that Sony Pictures Classics, which wanted the picture, came up with a smart strategy they compared to The Weinstein Company’s for Colin Firth. That consisted of Firth doing a lot of campaigning and earning a nomination for A Single Man in 2010, thus laying the groundwork for his The King’s Speech win the next year. SPC was going to put Fassbender out there and get him recognition for their November release of David Cronenberg’s Dangerous Method and then release Shame later in 2012 for a one-two punch that the Academy would notice. No go. The sales people behind Shame insisted it be released this year, thereby throwing the Venice Film Festival’s Best Actor winner into an already overcrowded awards race that among others includes Clooney, Pitt, Oldman, and DiCaprio who are better known – at least at this point.

The approach to Firth was clearly conservative: he established credibility for playing gay, but the role everyone knew he was going to win for was much more conventional, a heterosexual monarch gearing up to fight Hitler with words. I would have liked to see a campaign for Fassbender go in the opposite direction, from a great man who crosses the line in service of what he sees as a higher good to what sounds like a lacerating deconstruction of what society sells as a heterosexual male fantasy, as much sex as you want and more.