An optimistic approach to queer cinema qualifies for the Oscars

The short film “An Avocado Pit” (2022, dir. Ary Zara) is qualifying for the Oscars, this way representing the Portuguese film scene and queer cinema overall. The film travelled around the world through various cinema events, including London’s main film festivals too. However, it resurfaces in the media now as it deservedly gains even more recognition with the upcoming 96th Academy Awards, and with Elliot Page joining the team as an executive producer.

“An Avocado Pit” is a 20-minute film about a transgender woman (played by Gaya de Medeiros) and a cis man (Ivo Canelas) who meet one night, and end up talking until morning. Together they find chemistry that leads to engaging conversations instead of sexual explicitness, and have fun exploring each other’s realities. The film’s editing beautifully catches the pair’s playful looks, and the setting of Lisbon streets determines a soft-lit atmosphere. Despite addressing the underlying complexities of transgender identity, the film manages to deliver an unexpected ‘feel-good’ experience.

A more optimistic approach to queer cinema

What sets “An Avocado Pit” apart is its optimistic approach to transgender representation. Director A. Zara, a transgender artist himself, explicitly aimed to portray the trans community in a positive light, defying the often-pervasive negative stereotypes seen in cinema. Zara emphasizes that the film would not have been made if it did not convey a sense of hope, reflecting his commitment to showcasing the trans community in a more uplifting manner.

The film deliberately avoids catering exclusively to queer audiences, aiming instead for broader accessibility. In this refreshing picture, the multi-layered trans character, Larissa, does not meet the tragic fate common to many queer characters in film. This intentional deviation from the ‘bury your gays’ trope adds a new dimension to the narrative, challenging existing stereotypes and offering a more nuanced and genuine portrayal of transgender life.

Having said that, the film creators still did not want to hide the unpleasant side of trans reality. As Zara discussed, the pain and deaths in the community are true but they do not define the entire truth. “An Avocado Pit” shows trans people as more than the statistics and external presumptions. For example, the lead character Larissa is not a sex worker (whilst many trans characters in other movies often are), yet she hangs out with her friends who do prostitution. As a result, the film creates an undistorted image, just without the clichés. Not to mention, Zara’s personal experience likely contributes to the authenticity and depth of the characters.

Elliot Page contributes to the film as an executive producer

Remarkably, Elliot Page, who audiences may recognise from his pre-transition performance in “Juno” (2007), is now the film’s executive producer. As a spokesperson for trans rights in film as well as in general politics, he means a lot to the movie’s journey to the Oscars. E. Page joined the creators’ Q&A (led by another Oscar nominee Vincent Lambe) and shared that he was so impressed by “An Avocado Pit” that he messaged A. Zara on Instagram right after seeing the short. According to Page, films that reflect such a sense of trans agency are still really needed. Drawing from his own experience, Page expressed how important trans visibility in cinema is to those coming out. From his point of view, the right kind of representation of the trans community can help ‘remove the noise’ that makes people feel isolated.

In addition, as some may be aware of Page’s history with the Academy Awards, it would be a big win for “An Avocado Pit” and trans representation to join all the Hollywood stars at the 96th Oscars red carpet. Remembering that Page was forced to wear gender-conforming clothes for “Juno” awards, this short film’s appearance would once again prove how crucial is trans visibility. Although more and more films are exploring the matter, Elliot Page claims that there is still ‘a decent track to go’ as we are not living in the best times for trans people. Thus, the film creators’ message is to see the trans community as human beings beyond gender, and offer support in every possible way.