The Hailee Steinfeld Nomination Debate

by Melissa Silverstein on January 10, 2011

in Actresses

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)

True Grit: Hailee Steinfeld for Best Actress? (EW)

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Linn D. January 10, 2011 at 1:20 PM

Hi Melissa, I just searched through your website and didn’t see anywhere a posting on how to email/contact you directly. So I’m posting a comment instead. I figured you already heard about this, but perhaps not since you haven’t posted it on your website yet. HBO Picks Up Lena Dunham Pilot To Series By NELLIE ANDREEVA | Friday January 7, 2011 @ 9:31am PST. (That’s from Deadline Hollywood) I know you’ve been worried that HBO shoots great pilots about/with women, but hasn’t always picked them up. Both Veep and Lena’s show got picked up I believe… :)

Johnny Luckett January 13, 2011 at 3:00 PM

“…I think that Hailee Steinfeld is just wonderful!­!! Her on-screen work will just blow you away. I think she’s the Best Actress of the year.’True Grit’ is a great film and a must see. Also, I must note that Jeff Bridges & Matt Damon keep on showing us what great acting is all about.” – Johnny Luckett http://www.imdb.com/rg/s/3/name/nm3974084/

Patti January 15, 2011 at 6:56 PM

I loved the movie – she carried every scene she was in. As I left the theater, I looked back at the poster and couldn’t believe they chose to embed her name in the bottom credits, instead of putting her up top with the “big” names.

Janice Chandler January 16, 2011 at 6:59 PM

I was amazed at Hailee’s performance in True Grit. Of course Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon are awesome but Hailee just shined throughout the movie. This is! certainly just the beginning for this natural actress

James January 19, 2011 at 9:26 PM

She was undoubtedly the lead actress in True Grit. But all this pandering and politicking is about maximizing effort where there’s the greatest opportunity. If they pushed for her in the lead category (where Portman, Bening and Kidman are, in my opinion, locks) she would be going against actresses like Michelle Williams, Tilda Swinton, Jennifer Lawrence, and possibly the aforementioned Leslie Manville. It doesn’t seem as likely a shot as pushing for a supporting nod where there’s probably less debate as to the merit of her potential nomination. The biggest example I can think of in recent history would probably be Jennifer Hudson winning for Dream Girls in 2007. Effie White was certainly the lead role in that movie, but would Hudson have stood a chance against Mirren playing The Queen? I don’t think so.

Jan February 26, 2011 at 5:48 PM

What a performance. She makes me think of Jane March in l’Amant.

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