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. 


Alice said...

The actual name of the category is "Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role", I think that Amy Adams does fit in this category for The Master, but I'm not so sure about Anne Hathaway (haven't seen the movie though). There's no doubt in my mind that although Amy Adams is the main female character in The Master, she's certainly not one of the main characters.
The problem is that most of the time women are in the supporting roles.
Both the division between actor and supporting actor and between actor and actress are stupid anyway. If you're good, why does it matter what gender you are? And in The Master for instance, it's not really obvious who is the main actor, I wouldn't say that Hoffman is a supporting actor. They should have only one category, but of course that would mean four times as less oscars…

I just remembered that Paul Thomas Anderson wasn't even nominated. This just goes to show that these awards are a farce anyway!

sian and crooked rib said...

Good point, I see what you mean. And yes, problem is that women are so often put in the supporting role. And that the oscars are too stupid to give the master more awards..!

Tavi said...

Because Fantine IS a supporting role. She's not the "star" as you say. Even if they overpromoted the movie with Anne Hathaway's face on posters, it makes no difference to the role itself. She may have the biggest female part, but it is still a supporting part and almost over completely by the end of the first act.

It's not like she's the love interest of the main character, or the main character herself, both of which roles normally do carry the Best Actress nomination. It's a nice role, but it's not a principal one. A lot of actresses in the musical find it rather boring to have to wait around the 2nd act just to appear at the end for a brief time.

It's sad you find it boring. Do you mean the way it transferred itself into movie format, or the musical itself?

sian and crooked rib said...

I guess then perhaps that it's more a problem how so many films place women in supporting rather than major roles. Which means even when a woman is the lead actress in a film, she is still in a supporting role. It's very normal therefore to have a film like The Master (which, I cannot emphasise enough, I loved!) and Les Mis where the focus is very male, where the men are the leads and women are in supporting roles. But a film where women are in the lead roles and men are supporting is far rarer and is generally commented on as unusual - e.g. Bridesmaids. The exception that proves the rule are perhaps the SATC? Anyway, these comments have given me plenty of food for thought...!