Beyond the Character

At the Golden Globes last week, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto both won acting awards for their performances in Dallas Buyers Club. Leto is pretty much a lock to repeat his win at the Oscars in March, and McConaughey has a strong shot of repeating as well. As they prepare their Oscar speeches – because, let’s be real here, very few award winners are actually completely unprepared – I hope they’ll give more recognition to the situations their characters dealt with in the film, whether it’s about the fight against AIDS or the issues of acceptance faced by the trans community.

This may seem like an odd thing to hope for, but there’s precedent for this. For example, when Tom Hanks won his Oscar for playing a lawyer with AIDS in Philadelphia, he spent a third of his speech talking about those who had passed away from AIDS-related complications. When Sean Penn won an Oscar for playing gay rights activist Harvey Milk in Milk, he emphasized the importance of marriage equality in his speech.

Why were these acknowledgements important? It’s an acknowledgement to the people who share experiences with their characters that they care about more than just playing an interesting character (or worse, looking for an Oscar-baity role).

More importantly, acknowledging the persistence of HIV and AIDS as a very real thing for people all over the world may be a much-needed reminder for some people. Both McConaughey and Leto went through some highly-discussed physical transformations for their roles. Acknowledging that there are people who have to deal with similar physical transformations under more dire – and more permanent – terms, and perhaps mentioning anything these characters taught them about…well, anything, would be more worthwhile than hearing Leto complain about waxing his entire body or McConaughey vaguely mention the importance of living.

One thing McConaughey did mention in his speech was that it took over two decades, and 86 rejections, before the film found the right creative team to make Dallas Buyers Club. It’s great to show the struggle it took to get this film made, but while he’s at it, why not draw a parallel to the struggle of the characters in the film and their real-life counterparts?

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