Monday, 25 February 2013

On the Oscars: How can you be the supporting actress when you're the only actress?

Riddle me this, Bafta and the Academy. How can you be the supporting actress when you are, in fact, the main actress in a movie? 

I ask this because I cannot understand how the brilliant, sublime and wonderful Amy Adams was nominated in the ‘supporting actress’ category of both BAFTA and Oscar lists when in fact she was the lead actress in The Master. Laura Dern was the supporting actress. Amy Adams is the main actress. 

Similarly, how is Anne Hathaway a supporting actress in Les Miserables when clearly she is the best thing about that otherwise rather baggy and boring film? She is the main actress! She is the star. Who is the main actress in Les Mis if not her? Amanda-staring-across-a-square-Seyfried? If anything Eponine is the supporting actress to Fantine’s star. 

I can’t help feel that there is a relationship between the Bechdel test and this odd categorising of women’s roles in movies. All of the supporting actor roles as far as I could tell were actually supporting roles – i.e. there was a main male protagonist and another man performed in the film but in a supporting role. 

But as we all know from the Bechdel test, there is a dearth of films with two women in it at all – let alone films where there are two named women who have lines and actually get to do stuff - let alone stuff that might garner an award nomination. 

So, in The Master, there are two main actors – Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. One can be nominated for a best actor BAFTA and one for best supporting. Then you have Amy Adams and Laura Dern. But Amy Adams’ role, although the dominant female role in the film, is still seen as supporting to the two male protagonists. So she is deemed to be supporting even though she is the leading actress in the film. The male actors are seen in relation to each other. Amy Adams is then seen in relation to the men too. 

In Les Mis, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Eddie Redmayne are the main protagonists. So even though Anne Hathaway is the star woman, her role is still supporting the men in the film. She doesn’t make it into ‘best actress’ because although she is the best actress in the film, the prominence of her role is seen only in relation to the male characters. 

Men are very rarely seen in relation to women characters these days. It seems to me that because there is such a lack of films in Hollywood where women take on a leading role, or any role at all, the awards are always going to struggle to fill the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress category. And because so many Hollywood films present the male as the hero, and feature men as the main protagonist, women are all too often relegated to a supporting role even when they are the main female protagonist. So unless it’s really bloody obvious that the woman is the main character – like in Zero Dark Thirty – or the woman’s character is on an equal screen time footing with a man – like in Amour – then women are almost always seen as supporting. I mean, I haven’t seen Lincoln but from what I can tell, Sally Field is the lead actress she is not the supporting actress. She, Amy Adams and Anne Hathaway will always be supporting when we choose to see the actress role only how it exists in relation to men, rather than in relation to other women. 

And anyway, when all is said and done, Amy Adams should just win everything. As should The Master. It was absolutely the best film of last year and everyone in it should win every award. 

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