‘A Fantastic Woman’s Oscar Win Reignites Debate Over Gender Identity Laws In Chile

Lead Photo: 'Una mujer fantastica' (A Fantastic Woman). Courtesy of Sony Classics
'Una mujer fantastica' (A Fantastic Woman). Courtesy of Sony Classics
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Chile’s first ever Oscar win was bittersweet. On the surface, the success of Sebastian Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman at the Academy Awards, where it was crowned last year’s Best Foreign Language film, proved to the world that Chilean cinema has been killing it lately. Moreover, it became only the second ever movie in that category to be centered on the queer community (the first ever being Pedro Almodóvar’s All About My Mother). That it did so with Daniela Vega, a trans actress, as its protagonist was all the more impressive. Except that, if you’ve seen the film, you know that Vega’s character, Marina Vidal, spends much of her screen time battling petty and institutionalized transphobia. While it’s a celebration of the resilience of “fantastic women” like Marina, it’s also a bold indictment of the lack of legal protections the Chilean government offers its trans community.

That’s why, when Chilean president Michelle Bachelet tweeted in support of the Oscar win, pointing out that she was proud of the message Marina’s story represented, her words stoked the ongoing conversation about gender identity laws in Chile. First introduced back in May 2013, the law has yet to be passed. And with just one week left of Bachelet’s presidency, it remains unclear whether the provisions the law makes to legally protect and ratify the lives of trans men and women in Chile will become part of her legacy or be further embroiled in political debate as Sebastián Piñera‘s government takes over.

It’s unclear how the film’s success at the Dolby Theater will affect the current political debate. Nevertheless, grassroots organizations around the country have seized it as an opportunity to highlight the urgency of the issue – and the hypocrisy behind politicians who’d celebrate A Fantastic Woman‘s history-making win but fail to address the very issues it speaks against. OTD (Organizando Trans Diversidades) Chile, for example, just released a video PSA titled #IdentidadParaTodes (#IdentityForAll) that debunks common stereotypes about the trans community. Similarly, Movilh (Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual) announced on the Monday that they were calling for a debate on these gender identity laws in the wake of Lelio’s Oscar triumph.

As future Secretary of State Gonzalo Blumel told Radio Duna, “the movie serves as a challenge, a dilemma, that we need to tackle.” In particular, he noted that the changes the law would introduce, including streamlining the process of changing one’s name and gender identity on government-issued IDs are of the utmost importance. In fact, Vega has long explained that she won’t change the name on her passport until these laws go into effect. So, when she returns to her home country after having become the first trans performer to present at the Oscars, she’ll do so with a passport that doesn’t even reflect who she is.