It’s a striking picture: Brie Larson, last year’s Best Actress Oscar winner, embracing Emma Stone, this year’s winner. Larson uploaded it to Twitter, with the words “You know what’s better than winning? Watching your friends win.” There is a sense that Brie Larson and Emma Stone are similar actors with a similar career trajectory, now embracing at the pinnacle of success. Before she won her Oscar (for the gritty Emma Donoghue adaptation Room), Larson appeared on TV and in Judd Apatow movies. She had been a performer since she was a child, winning the most feted accolade in Hollywood when she was just 27. Stone was similar – starring in teen fare like Superbad before going on to snag the Best Actress Oscar aged 28 for La La Land. There they are: two twentysomethings who have clutched the coveted golden statuette.
If we were to look at a picture of this year’s Best Actor Oscar winner embracing last year’s, the vibe would be slightly different. Casey Affleck and Leonardo DiCaprio are, ahem, a little more seasoned. DiCaprio was awarded his first Oscar aged 41, and so was Casey Affleck. And although Affleck won for what was probably the highest profile role of his career, DiCaprio won on his fifth Oscar nomination.
Those facts neatly sum up an ongoing bias in the Academy Awards: more young women win the Best Actress award than young men win the Best Actor award. Indeed, as American journalist Kyle Buchanan pointed out last night, seven women in their twenties have won the Best Actress Oscar since 2000; just one man in his twenties (Adrien Brody) has won the Best Actor Oscar ever, in the entire history of the awards.
As portrayed in the instant-classic Amy Schumer sketch, women can only play love interests up until a certain point and are often paired with men decades older
Very often, a glamorous starlet is awarded an Oscar for what is deemed to be her first worthy or edgy role. Remember a 26-year-old Gwyneth Paltrow clutching her award for Shakespeare In Love or 28-year-old Charlize Theron winning for Monster? More recently, Jennifer Lawrence was 22 when she won for Silver Linings Playbook and a 29-year-old Natalie Portman picked up the gong for Black Swan. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions– Meryl Streep won her most recent Oscar aged 62, Julianne Moore won in 2015 aged 54 – but the incidence of twentysomething women winning compared to men is notable.
It’s easy to see how and why it happens. We prize youth in women – above almost everything else – so a beautiful young woman appearing in a lead role is destined to create lots of buzz. And don’t for a minute think that buzz isn’t the most important factor (above talent, yes) when it comes to winning an Academy Award. When Emma Stone beat Ruth Negga (35), Isabelle Huppert (63), Natalie Portman (35) and Meryl Streep (67) last night, she represented shiny, sparkly youth and alluring, buzzy freshness. (Also: Portman and Streep already have Oscars so it’s less exciting to award them another one.)
Another key factor in explaining why so many twentysomething women get Best Actress nods in comparison to men is the so-called fuckable age situation and Hollywood’s ongoing ageism and sexism. As portrayed in the instant-classic Amy Schumer sketch, women can only play love interests up until a certain point and are often paired with men decades older. Emma Stone is 28; Ryan Gosling, who played her love interest in La La Land and was nominated for the Best Actor award, is 36. At no point in the film was this (modest-by-Hollywood-standards) age gap remarked upon. But when twentysomething women are so consistently cast opposite men in their thirties, forties, fifties and beyond, of course there is going to be a skew in the ages at which stars receive major awards.
Perhaps what's most noteworthy about the women’s-age issue in relation to this year's Academy Awards is the fact that while Emma Stone took home the Best Actress Oscar, 51-year-old Viola Davis took home Best Supporting Actress for her role in Fences. Many were quick to point out that Davis’s Fences role didn’t seem very supporting but it was considered – apparently by Davis herself and the film company Paramount – that she was more likely to win Best Supporting Actress and so they campaigned along those lines. It’s worth pondering what that says about how we value women of colour and women past 30.
Emma Stone and Brie Larson are talented actresses who won Academy Awards for their roles in highly respected films, but isn’t it interesting that women’s glittery beauty still dazzles while men’s determined grit gets awarded?