Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Hard Pass on one Best Acting Academy Award (Ava and C.I.)

Hugh Jackman is only the latest in a series of performers who want the Academy Awards to gender neutral when it comes to acting awards.  THE LOS ANGLES TIMES also joined the cry recently.  Ourselves?  We live in the real world.

"Maybe if we think, and wish, and hope, and pray it might come true," sang The Beach Boys in "Wouldn't It Be Nice."  And maybe if we deluded ourselves we could go along with this nonsense.  Yes, nonsense is what it is.

Marcia and Rebecca have already weighed in and we agree with them.  Marcia has noted that when the category for rock vocal at The Grammys went from Best Male Rock Vocal and Best Female Rock Vocal to just Best Rock Vocal was last combined (2005 through 2011), there were seven winners.  All of them were male.  During those 7 years, there were 35 nominees -- 33 were male (only two were female, for those who struggle with math).  Rebecca has noted that the Best Actress category sparks genuine interest each year (something that's harder and harder for the Academy to do) and it the most followed race.

Those two reasons are reason enough for say "no."

And, please note, we're fine with nominees designating which category they will appear in -- Best Actor or Best Actress.  

We're not okay with women being overlooked.

And that is what will happen.  Marcia used the Grammys to make that point.  But we're making it for a different reason: actors and actresses are judged differently.

A woman has to really act, show a real range of emotions, in order to win the award.  Gwyneth Paltrow being the exception but she was "Harvey's girl" and we all know that's why she won her Best Actress award for that flimsy performance.  
The norm?

Look at 1951.  The nominees for Best Actress were Katharine Hepburn (THE AFRICAN QUEEN), Vivien Leigh (A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE), Eleanor Parker (DETECTIVE STORY), Shelley Winters (A PLACE IN THE SUN) and Jane Wyman (THE BLUE VEIL).  Each an amazing performance.  The winner was Vivien Leigh who delivered a multi-faceted performance with a wide range of emotions.  That same year, the Best Actor nominees were Humphrey Bogart (THE AFRICAN QUEEN), Marlon Brando (A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE), Montgomery Clift (A PLACE IN THE SUN), Arthur Kennedy (BRIGHT VICTORY) and Fredric March (DEATH OF A SALESMAN).  Brando gave the best performance, showed the greatest range in a nominated role that year.  The award went to . . . Humphrey Bogart.

Now we like Humphrey and think he was good in the role.  Good.  Not great.

But a woman has to express a range of emotions to win and a man has to suppress emotions to win.

It goes to what we value in men and women, to the gender stereotypes our society imposes. 

Merging the two categories into one without addressing this reality would be insane.  

A man can be stiff and wooden and walk off with the prize -- Gary Cooper for HIGH NOON, Charlton Heston (BEN HUR), Rex Harrison (MY FAIR LADY), Cliff Robertson (CHARLY), John Wayne (TRUE GRIT), etc.  A man can flatten his personality completely for a role but win a Best Actor Academy Award while a woman, take Jane Fonda in KLUTE, has to deliver an amazing and deeply felt performance in order to win.

Fonda?  Henry Fonda makes the point for us.  Take him or any other actor that shades their characterization and digs deep (Paul Newman, Marlon Brando being two others) and they have to be nominated multiple times before finally winning -- if they're lucky enough to ever win.  Spencer Tracey  was considered the finest actor in the industry for decades.  Was the for pretending he was romantically in love with Katharine Hepburn?  Or for all the men and rent boys he slept with (including John Derek)?  It wasn't for what he delivered onscreen -- competency.  Henry Fonda delivered a career of riveting performances and it wasn't until he was dying, and forty-one years after his first Academy Award nomination, that Henry finally won.  

Gary Cooper is the text book example of wooden.  But he was a big star so he got nominations and, in fact, won five years after his first nomination.  Pauline Kael famously observed, "Moviegoers like to believe that those thy have made stars are great actors.  People used to say that Gary Cooper was a fine actor -- probably because when they looked in his face they were ready to give him their power of attorney."

Cooper was a nothing in terms of acting when contrasted with Henry Fonda.  He was wooden and cumbersome.  But he made off with two Academy Awards for Best Actor when he didn't deserve even one.

Luise Rainer won two as well and some feel she was overrated.  She may have been.  But look at the other women who won at least two Best Actress Academy Awards and grasp how deep they had to dig and how much emotion they had to expose to get those two awards.  Jane Fonda, Bette Davis, Sally Field, Olivia de Havilland, Vivian Leigh, Ingrid Bergman, Elizabeth Taylor, Glenda Jackson, Jodie Foster, Hillary Swank, Meryl Streep, Frances McDormand and Katharine Hepburn. 

Elizabeth delivered a tour de force performance in WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOLF? and won her second Academy Award.  Her co-star Richard Burton was nominated but didn't win.  In fact, he was nominated six times and never won once.  He wasn't a stone faced, wooden actor.  If he had been, he most likely would have taken home a statue.

Best Actor and Best Actress merged into one category?  What's next, merging the 100 meter, the 200 meter and the 400 meter races into one track event at the Olympics?

Because that's the same as ignoring that what's required for a man to win Best Actor is so much less than has ever been required for a woman to be Best Actress.

We don't live in a gender neutral world so it seems very puzzling to us that people want to take two different categories and merge them into one.  Not only to merge them, but also to pretend that men and women are judged by the same criteria for their acting awards. 

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