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Friday, February 6, 2015

Reel Trendy: Oscars and the Plain Jane Effect

Posted By on Fri, Feb 6, 2015 at 11:45 AM

Women must get bored on the red carpet with the endless barrage of redundancy — reporters asking the obligatory question "Who are you wearing?" and their obligatory answer that almost always relates back to the work of a male designer. The point made is that actresses need not discuss their own craft but gush over couture gowns and Fred Leighton jewels instead. Let the men talk shop.  

Social media says otherwise and recently there's been a push from fans encouraging celebrity correspondents to #AskHerMore on the red carpet than just how many crystal stones adorn her bodice. Could we then take that hashtag's same approach and apply it toward how we critique a woman's so-called "brave" performance? 

You see, in the real world, the title "brave" is reserved for those who fearlessly champion a just cause, patriotically serve their country and/or periodically help a cat down a tree. In Hollywood, the esteemed title is bestowed on celebs who go casual on the red carpet, live stream their gastric bypass and/or occasionally (with merit) save ladies from fiery buildings. 

All commendable feats, no doubt, but what does the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences really consider brave as far as the performances they choose to honor? Answers and double-standards vary by gender.

Here's the skinny: Women who undress are, by Oscar standards, brave and are then richly rewarded with nominations and a Seth MacFarlane serenade. Men who undress are brave as well, and receive much acclaim, but are often overlooked by the mostly heterosexual male voting body (i.e. Michael Fassbender in Shame and Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike). Now that's just nudity, however, the undying myth is that if an actress foregoes makeup on the big screen the Academy will inevitably honor that "brave" choice and make up for it with an Oscar.  

That general criteria for Oscar victory might often be true but it then begs the question: Does the Academy know how to truly appreciate an actor's work beyond what they see on the surface level?

That same question could be asked of the general public and for that reason we'll take a look back at the best actress category throughout the 2000s, not to discredit any past winners, but to take a closer look at the "drab" victors and, in some cases, their more "glamorous" competition. Let's see if we somehow failed to #AskOurselvesMore and this time give these performances some rightly earned acknowledgment.and analysis.


Halle Berry in Monster's Ball & Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Should we feel insulted? There is nothing plain about Berry's character, Leticia Musgrove, in Monster's Ball. Sure, she's weary and Maybelline free but most would forego an Oscar win in order to look like that in a waitress's uniform, especially under tragic circumstances. Berry's true feat, however, is one of raw exposure and commitment to a part that would have the rest of us desperately reach under our beds for the box of comfort snacks. 

Kidman's performance, on the other hand, could easily been seen as product placement for Cartier diamonds. However, a closer look and beneath the flawless porcelain skin you'll find a woman desperately trapped atop a high-wire act of identity crisis. Is she the seductive courtesan with an enviable power over men or is she the undervalued actress hungry for her big break or is she the vulnerable songbird in love with the penniless writer? Kidman fearlessly walks the tightrope, broken ribs and all, and presents a multifaceted portrait of a woman who could unjustly be seen as one note.

The Oscar deservedly went to Berry and inevitably started the enduring "trend" of fashionista actresses who de-glam in search of Oscar's attention.
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Jonathan Ramos


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