Daniela Vega Hernández, a Chilean transgender actress and singer has received critical acclaim for her lead role as Marina Vidal in Sebastián Lelio’s Oscar-nominated “A Fantastic Woman.” While Daniela Vega isn’t personally nominated for an award, she will be presenting at the Academy Awards making history as the first transgender woman to do so.
She may even have an opportunity to present an Oscar to the writer-director and producer of A Fantastic Woman as the movie was submitted by her country for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Some people question the value of this particular Oscar but it should be recognized that Daniela Vega has already won over the heart of her country. Regardless win or not Daniela Vega is una fantástica Mujer transgénero.
Jonathan Romney surmised Daniela Vega’s role in “A Fantastic Woman” today in a must-read Guardian interview in parlance that hobbled with my pedestrian prose I can at best copy and paste:
Directed by Sebastián Lelio , A Fantastic Woman, the follow-up to his acclaimed female-centred drama Gloria, has been the toast of the festival circuit over the past year and is now heading for the Academy Awards, where it’s up for best foreign language film. It’s a magnificent work, stylish, playful and highly serious and, despite its protagonist’s sometimes harrowing ordeals, exuberantly uplifting. But what seals the film’s brilliance is Vega’s extraordinary portrayal of Marina, a young trans woman facing intense social hostility. It may be that, as Juliet Jacques suggested in a recent Guardian article, that in playing someone whose experience is in some ways close to hers, a trans actor such as Vega is able to bring a special bonus of “emotional memory” to her performance. But regardless of the viewer’s curiosity as to whether or not Vega essentially “is” Marina, there’s no denying that she brings a depth, sophistication and resilience to the role.
Lelio’s film has been widely acclaimed not just as a superb work, but also as a rare screen depiction of a trans heroine that casts a trans woman in the lead. We’re used to seeing cisgender actors, male and female, winning plaudits for playing trans roles, whether it’s with the subtlety of Felicity Huffman in Transamerica or the coy awkwardness of Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl. But we’re also witnessing a period in which trans roles demand trans casting, as in Sean Baker’s Tangerine or in Orange Is the New Black, which got actor Laverne Cox on the cover of Time magazine. There are also precursors such as Spain’s Antonia San Juan, with her immortal onstage monologue in Almodóvar’s All About My Mother: “Soy muy auténtica” (“I’m the real deal”).
These latter performers, however, have played socially marginal characters in larger-than-life dramas, respectively, sex workers, a prison inmate, a stage bohemian. What’s different about A Fantastic Woman is that its heroine inhabits a world of everyday tribulation, living an unsensational life defined by work, love and bureaucratic obstacles. Vega plays Marina, a waitress and singer engaged in a relationship with an older man, Orlando. Then, when crisis hits, Marina becomes an object of baffled, wary inquiry by the Chilean authorities and the object of bitter hostility from her partner’s family.