Despite being among the most progressive nations in South America, Chile still has a long way to go when it comes to homosexual and transgender rights. But that journey got a little shorter this week, when A Fantastic Woman won the Best Foreign Film Oscar at the prestigious awards ceremony on Monday night. That is, of course, because its lead actor, Daniela Vega, is a proud transgender woman.
Aside from helping to secure Chile’s first-ever Oscar, Vega has been credited with giving a voice to Chile’s marginalized LGBT community. Efforts have been underway since 2013 to pass a gender identity bill that would simultaneously recognize a third gender and gay marriage, yet progress has been painfully slow due to squabbles between conservative lawmakers who continue to resist change.
President Michelle Bachelet used the occasion to bolster the bill, saying on Twitter, “The award fills us with pride, not only because it recognizes a high caliber film, but also a story about respect for diversity that serves us well as a nation.”
Bachelet is due to finish her term on Sunday, handing over the reins to the conservative Sebastián Piñera.
Piñera also publicly praised the film, although he stopped short of discussing transgender issues. “Tonight, Chilean cinema reached the stars. Go Chile and a big hug, with pride and emotion, to the whole team behind #UnaMujerFantastica.”
Piñera’s position on the issue is not entirely clear. Previously, he argued during a presidential debate that a child’s gender identity “could be corrected over time” and that his government would “not discriminate against anyone.” On the other hand, he was elected on a conservative platform and any bold move towards improving LGBT rights could entail sharp criticism from his voter base.
Advocacy groups such as the Iguales Foundation remained hopeful that the success of the film would motivate progress on the outstanding bill, as well as improve rights and reduce discrimination against Chile’s gay and transgender citizens.
Senator Juan Pablo Letelier, an early advocate of the bill, told the New York Times, “Thanks to this Oscar, perhaps it will be understood that this law is not about an issue of values, but rather the basic human right to an identity.”
Vega received critical acclaim across the board for her powerful performance, including the praise of several Oscar award-winning actors who urged moviegoers to rush out and see the film. The story follows a transgender woman who loses her husband to an aneurysm and has to overcome shocking prejudice from healthcare workers and police immediately after the ordeal.