As the debate about Oscar nominations concludes this week, one interesting conversation that has been going on is the debate about whether True Grit actress Hailee Steinfeld should be placed in the best actress or best supporting actress category.
The campaign for Steinfeld from the studio is focused on securing her a supporting nod. That makes perfect sense on the surface. She’s a first time actress, she’s 14, and she stars opposite some of the biggest stars including last year’s best actor winner Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. And as we all know that best actress is a very competitive category with Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), Natalie Portman (The Black Swan), and Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) as virtual locks for best actress.
It’s true she is young. Remember when Keisha Castle Hughes burst onto the scene and stole our hearts with her performance in Whale Rider? At 13, she became the youngest person nominated for a best actress Oscar. There was no doubt that her performance was a leading performance, but if I recall correctly, initially, she was being pushed in the supporting category.
When we see a young woman — a girl in this case — give an extraordinary performance we are awed and impressed, especially if the person has never carried a movie before. And honestly, as a culture, for some reason we are still shocked when we see young women playing strong roles. It would be no big deal if Mattie was a boy, because boys are expected to have “grit.” But we still are at a place where strength in girls and young women — like Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone — is still new enough to excite us beyond just the performance. These films are also statements about the strength in girls and young women.
So it might make sense to keep her in supporting which would surely get her a nod. But, the problem is, she is the lead of the film. She is the first image, and she is the last image (her character as an adult). She drives the story. Yes, Jeff Bridges also gives a leading performance. Don’t many films have more than one lead? Look at The Kids Are All Right. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are both the leads.
That bring me to the Lesley Manville, Another Year issue. She is being pushed for leading actress. Another Year is an ensemble piece. Manville gives the showiest, gutsiest performance, but Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent are as much the leads of Another Year as Lesley Manville.
The Oscars race is a political campaign and the objective is to get the nomination and then the win. Voters don’t need to heed the campaign pushes. Last week the BAFTA long list included Steinfeld in the leading category and Manville in the supporting category. The fact that the conversation this year is all about the women’s performances is very exciting.
The whole thing feels a lot like politics — primary season and then election season. The primaries are almost over. Can’t wait to see how this turns out.
Teen girls in film showcase true grit (LA Times)