Years ago, when an aging movie star won an Emmy award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Special—a category specifically designed for aging movie stars—she raced to the podium, clutched her award, stared at it lovingly, and then trilled, “I hope you get along with Oscar and Tony!”
Meaning: “Please be aware, members of the audience, that I also have an Oscar and a Tony.”
It was an egregious and self-serving comment, but it was also a bit of savvy branding. The award-winner was reminding an audience filled with younger colleagues, who might not remember her career triumphs from back in the day, that she was a real star, alive and kicking, and more important, she was available.
In that sense, her acceptance speech was perfectly adapted to a Hollywood awards show. The Oscar Award telecast, and its lower-rent cousins like the SAG Awards and the Golden Globes, have evolved over the years from ceremonies that crown movies and performances that were already familiar to audiences to places where audiences discover films they’ve never heard of.
Put it this way: In 1940, when Gone with the Wind won its eight Oscars, moviegoing audiences had already seen it. They had probably also seen some of the other pictures up that (amazing) year: Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, among others. They thought about the ceremony the way we think about sports. They rooted for a favorite.
Eighty years later, when Parasite won its Best Picture Oscar—up against respectable, but not boffo, box-office performers like Little Women—audiences were left scratching their heads and wondering what the shouting was all about. The result was a bonanza for the Korean-language drama, which enjoyed a powerful “Oscar effect” on its subsequent earnings.
That Emmy-winning Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Special knew instinctively what the producers of Parasite learned at the box office—awards are things to be leveraged and maximized and turned into money. Disgraced and incarcerated movie producer Harvey Weinstein knew this, too. He was the famous pioneer of something called the “Oscar campaign.” He noticed that the smaller, often overlooked, awards, such as the Golden Globes, often influenced the choices of the Motion Picture Academy voters. So he poured money into lavish parties, ad campaigns, free screener DVDs—whatever it took to garner some attention for his movies from the Golden Globes, and the movie guilds, which in turn positioned them in the minds of the Academy voters as Oscar-worthy projects, which in turn won them Oscars, which in turn made Weinstein a whole lot richer.
Awards are good for everyone’s business. So it’s a mystery why some Hollywood figures want to reduce the number of award categories.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that there’s something really binary about the categories of Best Actor and Best Actress. “I don’t think the categories are inclusive enough,” said nonbinary acting professional Emma Corrin, who goes by the pronouns they/them and played Princess Diana on The Crown. And Emma Corrin are not the only one. Editorials in Hollywood’s hometown newspaper, Los Angeles Times, and in a lot of the other usual places have argued that divvying up acting awards into old-fashioned and outdated categories like Actor and Actress should be discontinued.
The argument for consolidating the Actor and Actress awards into one, unified all-inclusive award is that the world has gone nuts about gender and that show business should reflect whatever current psychological contagion is raging in the culture. (I’m sure there’s another way to put that, but you get the idea.)
One argument against such a move is that if awards mean money and more awards mean more money, then fewer awards mean something Hollywood is never okay with. It would be as if that aging movie star, clutching her statuette for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Special, just said “thanks” and moved off stage left.
There’s a more compelling argument against such a move, and it’s this: Men have it easier in Hollywood. They usually make more money than their female counterparts, and the business has a much more tolerant attitude about things like age and weight when it comes to acting professionals who identify as male. If you put all the actors into one category, it’ll be the guys who win the awards.
Consider: Brendan Fraser is a talented and appealing actor who this year is nominated for an Oscar for his role in director Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale, in which he plays a morbidly obese recluse. Fraser has gained weight since his days as a young romantic hero, but not enough to play a truly obese character, so for his performance in The Whale he wore what industry professionals call “a fat suit.”
Consider: Renee Zellweger is a talented and appealing actor who was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in Bridget Jones’s Diary for which she gained 15-ish real pounds—no fat suit for her—and was hailed as “brave” for playing a “fat” character, though to be honest she didn’t look all that fat. She was something called “Hollywood Fat,” which is better than most of us look on our best days.
When Fraser takes off his fat suit, he’s still a chunky guy with a filled-out face. And his career has been reinvigorated by his physically unattractive appearance in The Whale. When Zellweger wrapped Bridget Jones’s Diary, she promptly lost the weight, and in subsequent installments of the Bridget Jones franchise, she has appeared as her usual, slender self. Hollywood doesn’t like fat suits on women, but it loves them on men. Guys have it easier.
They always have. Years ago, when the winner of the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Special took home her statuette, she beat out some stiff competition, including Colleen Dewhurst, Stockard Channing, Irene Worth, and Swoosie Kurtz.
But on the male side, the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Special, she would have been up against Ned Beatty, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, Brian Dennehy, and Anthony Hopkins, most of whom were older and fatter than their female counterparts in the category, none of whom could boast about having a Tony and an Oscar at home, but any of whom would have taken home the statue because that’s the way Hollywood works.
But for the modern professional acting persons who refuse to pick a gender, there is some good news. Professional acting person Asia Kate Dillon is nonbinary and that made it difficult to campaign for an Emmy award for Dillon’s performance as Taylor Mason, a nonbinary, quantitative investor in Showtime’s Billions. “There is no room for my identity within that award system binary,” said Dillon, who was not nominated for an Emmy.
But Dillon did win two Critics Choice awards, both of them as Best Actor in a Drama Series. Which means you can win a Best Actor award and be fat or old or not even 100 percent male. Guys really do have it easier.
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