Froma Harrop: Another Academy sore point: Beauty wins
We are here not to discuss the complex #OscarsSoWhite controversy but to address another sore point with perhaps similar origins: the #OscarsSoGorgeous phenomenon.
At the risk of running afoul of some ardent fan clubs, let us note that the Academy Awards for best actress tend to favor the young and beautiful, often for playing the down and out. Some older actresses survive the nominating process, but observe how many wouldn’t be there had they not established their careers on earlier goddess roles.
This helps explain why there are so few good parts for women who are dark and short — or, for that matter, white but less than spectacular. As with the lack of black nominees, the perpetual dearth of non-beautiful actresses surely reflects the socializing preferences of the white men in charge.
This is not to disparage Jennifer Lawrence’s acting talents, which many say are considerable. But it seemed odd that she was chosen to play the lead in “Joy,” a performance for which she has been nominated as best actress. “Joy” is based on the true story of Joy Mangano, a hard-luck working mother who found success inventing and selling homely mops.
Now the real Mangano is a fine-looking woman with strong Mediterranean features. But she was not born porcelain-skinned and blue-eyed. She did not pursue her dreams with a team of hair stylists maintaining the highest standards through her deepest indignities.
The Hollywood version lingers on endless close-ups of Lawrence’s mug — a picture of northern European perfection, currently a “face of Dior.” Of course, Lawrence has been on the cover of Vogue, which calls her “Hollywood’s blockbuster blonde.”
In 2006, Julia Roberts won best actress for “Erin Brockovich,” a real-life story about a blunt, working-class girl’s legal victory. Nothing wrong with the real Brockovich’s looks, but Erin was never the Roberts-level babe who could dominate the glossies from the lowliest fan mags to Vogue.
Roberts broke into stardom in “Pretty Woman,” playing a character who was supposed to be beautiful. Had Roberts not already achieved stardom as a dazzler, would she have been cast in the meaty role of a vulgar crusader?
The 2003 Oscar went to former model Charlize Theron for her role as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in “Monster.” Fan magazines at the time marveled at how teams of makeup artists were able to turn a stunner into an ugly wretch.
You’d think that roles to play these tortured women would create opportunities for extraordinarily talented actresses of ordinary appearance, but that’s not how Hollywood usually works. Hollywood demands that female actors do double-duty as thespians and glamour queens.
On Oscars night we see how, when it comes to gender, Hollywood actors inhabit two entirely different planets. The men romp into the Dolby Theatre, while the women must run the gauntlet of red carpet humiliation. You see them freeze in cheesy poses, every detail of their facades followed by a week of microscopic critique.
At the ceremony itself, the male winners joyfully bound up the stairs to the stage. The female winners in spikes gingerly climb the stairs, no doubt terrified that a heel could lock into a long hem.
So this is a night to pity the bombshells as well as the great female actors who never had the chance to win the great parts. Why even bother with this dated vision when we can stream fascinating stories of three-dimensional women on our own screens day or night? And small wonder the Oscar audience numbers have been tanking.