YOUNGEST EVER OSCAR NOMINEE DRAWS IRE OF OLDER ACTRESSES

January 11, 2013, 9:19 am Thelma Adams, Yahoo! Movies

Isn't it wonderful that a 9-year-old, Quvenzhane Wallis, has received an Oscar nomination, becoming the youngest ever to earn that honour? Well, maybe not.

WATCH: "Beasts of the Southern Wild" trailer


I was at a Manhattan industry lunch dishing with a pair of over-40 actresses the other day, and they were less enthusiastic about the Oscar buzz surrounding Quvenzhane Wallis, age 9.

The two hardworking veterans (one an Oscar winner, the other a SAG nominee) didn't want to seem to be tearing down the achievement of a lovely little girl, but ... both agreed, in whispered tones, that this was more stunt than performance. Where was the craft? However wonderful the young girl was in "The Beasts of the Southern Wild," her scampering around the Louisiana bayou was not an acting achievement worthy of an Oscar.

Experienced screen actors have good reason to be a little peeved. They often struggle for years to get a break, much less Oscar recognition.

GALLERY: Youngest Ever Oscar Nominees

As the three of us closed the circle of our discussion so as not to be overheard, I said that as charming and effervescent as Wallis is as Hushpuppy in that Southern gothic fantasy, credit director Benh Zeitlin for the performance (he got a nomination today). The actresses seemed relieved to hear me, a journalist, articulate the point that was making the rounds in their world. Save those five important best-actress slots for recognising the major achievements of working actresses -- and let's see if Wallis will continue to perform in roles not tailored to her.

While Wallis gets credit for being the charismatic centre of "Beasts", the role draws on her innate charm. She's not stretching in the way that, say, Naomi Watts did in "The Impossible" or Lawrence, who was so different in "Silver Linings Playbook" from her Katniss Everdeen in "Hunger Games."

Furthermore, Wallis's performance relied heavily on a voiceover narration that was laid down after the shoot.

Looking back historically at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which started in 1994, child stars rarely get their nominations. A minor has never won from the actors-only group, which boosts the argument that actors know it takes years to develop the craft.

Certainly, when I compare 9-year-old Wallis's achievements with those of contenders snubbed by Oscar today -- Rachel Weisz in "Deep Blue Sea," Keira Knightley in "Anna Karenina," Marion Cotillard in "Rust and Bone," and Helen Mirren in "Hitchcock" -- I have to agree with my two actress friends. It doesn't seem fair. How could the Academy overlook these performances and raise up Wallis's? It seems mercurial at best, and downright frustrating to working actors, to fail to acknowledge the craft and bravery of these women who have put themselves out there, stripping down physically and emotionally for role after role.

When the actors sit down to vote for a winner in the best-actress category, this sentiment will colour their view of Wallis -- and it's doubtful that she will win the statuette. She joins a long history of young and unknown Oscar nominees. Remember Keisha Castle-Hughes from "Whale Rider" in 2002? Others in the list include Justin Henry ("Kramer vs. Kramer"), Haley Joel Osment ("The Sixth Sense"), Quinn Cummings ("The Goodbye Girl"), and Mary Badham ("To Kill a Mockingbird").

Of course, there have been successful young nominees, like Jodie Foster, Anna Paquin, and Abigail Breslin. My Academy Award-winning source remembers asking director Lee Daniels what would happen to his "Precious" star Gabourey Sidibe after his movie. As it turns out, he needn't have been concerned. Sidibe has gone on to parts in "Tower Heist" and "Seven Psychopaths" and to a regular role in TV's "The Big C."


Thelma Adams writes for Yahoo! Movies

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13 Comments

  1. Glib02:23pm Monday 14th January 2013 ESTReport Abuse

    Plenty of adult "actors" can't act either. Like Nicholas Cage, for example. He is a joke.

    1 Reply
  2. paulski02:47pm Sunday 13th January 2013 ESTReport Abuse

    Absolutely ludicrous that a 9 year-old is nominated as Best Actress. Those that missed out (like Helen Mirren) would have every right to feel shafted. Hopefully one of the far more worthy nominees will get up (preferably Lawrence or Watts).

    Reply
  3. turbo09:55am Sunday 13th January 2013 ESTReport Abuse

    How refreshing to read an article, (although not factually correct) with no spelling mistakes, no missing words, no sentences starting with 'and' or 'but' and no unnecessary parenthesis littering the piece.

    Reply
  4. Jeffrey06:34pm Saturday 12th January 2013 ESTReport Abuse

    i'd say this nomination is based on the schmaltz factor or the 'guilt' industry, based on the above commentary.....there is even a voiceover, so why credit the girl?

    Reply
  5. Russell Hayden12:56pm Saturday 12th January 2013 ESTReport Abuse

    Doesnt it tell the two oldies something?

    Reply
  6. Joel11:48am Saturday 12th January 2013 ESTReport Abuse

    Just because eshe's a little black girl!! Typical

    Reply
  7. フランク02:33pm Friday 11th January 2013 ESTReport Abuse

    Yeah....although some children can paint like Picasso, or rather make pictures that look similar.......there's no original thought or real craft.....a little bit like those Thai elephants that can paint an abstract something. This is #$%$ and typical of an Academy which has lost its way.....It is a stunt.

    Reply
  8. nita c02:19pm Friday 11th January 2013 ESTReport Abuse

    Dear Thelma Adams, Your article above contains an error; Abigail Breslin did not win an oscar for her role in "Little Miss Sunshine". The list would be more accurate if it read 'young successful nominees like Jodie Foster(who was actually 22 when she won her first so I don't know how that's called young), Anna Paquin(12), Tatum O'Neal(11 I think).

    Reply
  9. Kylie01:53pm Friday 11th January 2013 ESTReport Abuse

    Since when were the "Best" Oscar awards (actor, actress, director, etc) a career achievement? It's meant to be based solely on the performance in the movie the person is nominated for. And since when does being paid to perform in a movie not qualify someone as a working actress?

    Reply
  10. Gergely Hajdu01:31pm Friday 11th January 2013 ESTReport Abuse

    Dear Ms. Adams, You may be right from a (your) point of view but please do not forget that the Oscar is not a technical award! It's not just about how trained and skilled a 'movie maker' can be, but the magic! The magic they can bring us, the audience through the screens. And seeing from my point of view, as the spectator, this little girl brought me this magic! There can be other, well-known names in their industry who worked hard and "suffered enough" to get this award but please! Do not judge the fact that Quvenzhane Wallis definitely gave us something more than precious. As a footnote, let me draw your and your actress friends' attention to a long forgotten name from the film industry who has never received her Oscar, although she proved us through many decades that if there's somebody who deserves it with no doubt, it's her: Doris Day... The Acadamy somehow decided not to appreciate her at all and nobody knows the truth, why? I think this question could be more interesting than lamenting and complaining about a little girl's threat of loosing one nomination from the five this year's Oscar... Sincerely, just a voice from the audience PS: Oh, and one more thing: though we have them in my profession, I have never worked for awards but to see our "audience's" gladness. I think who feels him or herself "struggling" for an award, whatever that profession it is, it's the wrong direction...

    Reply

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