Just before Motion Picture Academy members cast their ballots for Oscar nominations this week, Magnolia Pictures, the team behind one of last year's most talked-about independent films, "Tangerine," made a final effort to ingratiate itself with voters. At a screening of the film Monday night, they brought out Caitlyn Jenner, the former Olympian who came out as transgender last year, in hopes of drumming up support for the potential nomination of trans actresses Mya Taylor and Kitana "Kiki" Rodriguez.
"Movies like this are so important because this is about honesty," Jenner told a packed audience at The Landmark. "This is about actually what happens out there in the community, played by people in our community. For me, it was brutally honest and I really enjoyed it."
"Tangerine" -- which is available to stream on Netflix -- stars Taylor and Rodriguez as a pair of transgender sex workers along Santa Monica Boulevard. On Christmas Eve, Sin-Dee (Rodriguez) is just out of a 28-day stint in jail when her best friend, Alexandra (Taylor), accidentally reveals that Sin-Dee's pimp and boyfriend has cheated on her. Directed by Sean Baker, he and writer Chris Bergoch developed the script for the film in partnership with Taylor, whom they met at the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
The screening was a part of an overall Oscars nomination campaign, the first-ever launched for two transgender actresses. The campaign opted out of traditional "For Your Consideration" advertising in favor of screenings with Q&As and sending screeners to the actors branch of the Academy. Cinematographers (the movie was shot on an iPhone 5s) and screenwriters also received screeners.
Introduced by producers Mark and Jay Duplass, Jenner's speech brought the efforts full circle. The Kardashian parent spoke about how the film affected her following a very public coming out nine months ago with high-profile interviews and the cover of Vanity Fair in June.
"To me, the movie was so educational," she said. "It was funny. It had a lot of humor to it, but it was so brutally honest. I learned so much from the film."
She continued, discussing the overall representation of trans people in the media and how "Tangerine" pushes against that: "These characters have always been on the sideline of TV shows and films and the butt of jokes and the victims. But in this movie, they're front and center. In fact, this is an inside look at the difficulties and obstacles trans women of color are facing [like the lack of] jobs, healthcare. The performances were so powerful. Kiki and Mya did a wonderful job in bringing this to light."
Taylor, to date, has received the most buzz for her role. She won the breakthrough actor category at the Gotham Awards (Rodriguez was nominated in the same category) and is nominated for best supporting actress for the Independent Spirit Awards. She too spoke at the screening Monday, on what she hopes her performance does for the broader industry.
"I'm hoping that it opens more people's eyes to trans talent," she said. "There is trans talent out there. You just have to go look for it."
Since filming "Tangerine," Taylor has starred in the short film "Happy Birthday Marsha" about the life of famed trans activist Marsha P. Johnson. The film is in post-production and is to be released this year.
It has yet to be seen if the Oscars campaign for "Tangerine" worked. The world will find out when nominations are announced the morning of Jan. 14.