The musician and environmental advocate cites gender politics and corporate greed as part of her reasoning.
Of the thousands of people invited to the 88th Academy Awards this Sunday, one seat will be notably empty. Anohni, a Mercury Prize-winning musician and one of the nominees for best original song, will not be in attendance at the prestigious film awards.
In a powerful essay published on Pitchfork, the transgender artist formerly known as Antony Hegarty detailed the reasons behind her decision, most prominently the fact that she was not invited to perform during the ceremony. She writes:
“Last night I tried to force myself to get on the plane to fly to L.A. for all the nominee events, but the feelings of embarrassment and anger knocked me back, and I couldn't get on the plane. I imagined how it would feel for me to sit amongst all those Hollywood stars, some of the brave ones approaching me with sad faces and condolences. There I was, feeling a sting of shame that reminded me of America’s earliest affirmations of my inadequacy as a transperson. I turned around at the airport and went back home.”
But Anohni recognized that her omission was not a direct act of discrimination. She recognized the more immediate commercial concerns, such as the fact that her work is not well known by the American mainstream. And yet, for her, the situation still illuminated the systemic, institutionalized marginalization of transgender people in society at large:
“I want to be clear—I know that I wasn’t excluded from the performance directly because I am transgendered … But if you trace the trail of breadcrumbs, the deeper truth of it is impossible to ignore. Like global warming, it is not one isolated event, but a series of events that occur over years to create a system that has sought to undermine me, at first as a feminine child, and later as an androgynous transwoman. It is a system of social oppression and diminished opportunities for transpeople that has been employed by capitalism in the U.S. to crush our dreams and our collective spirit.”
Anohni’s mention of global warming points to her work as an environmental advocate; her song “Manta Ray” was written for the conservation documentary Racing Extinction, and her most recent track, “4 Degrees,” addresses the creeping, quietly devastating impact of global warming.
She concluded her essay with a sharp condemnation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as an institution, criticizing the use of “feel-good” entertainment as a “smokescreen” to disguise large-scale corruption and exploitation that devastates global economies and habitats:
“So I have decided not to attend the Academy Awards this election year. I will not be lulled into submission with a few more well manufactured, feel-good ballads and a bit of good old fashioned T. and A. They are going to try to convince us that they have our best interests at heart by waving flags for identity politics and fake moral issues. But don't forget that many of these celebrities are the trophies of billionaire corporations whose only intention it is to manipulate you into giving them your consent and the last of your money … America, a country that is no longer contained by physical borders, aspires only for more power and control. I want to maximize my usefulness and advocate for the preservation of biodiversity and the pursuit of human decency within my sphere of influence.”