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Sunday, January 07, 2007

 

Supporting Actress Blogathon: Kerry Washington

This post is part of the Supporting Actress Blogathon hosted by Stinkylulu. Visit the Blogathon Homepage to find even more great pieces on the favorites, the forgotten, and the fabulous supporting actresses of 2007.

I've never really understood how Oscar nominees get codified...and in 2006, it's about as lock-tight as it could be. The conventional wisdom -- if you believe critics and guilds and oscar web sites -- is that Hudson, Blanchett, Barazza, Kikuchi, and Breslin are the five supporting actresses of the year. I take nothing away from these women, but it's basically ridiculous to have it so limited. Yes, there's been a little buzz for possible upstarts (Shareeka Epps in Half Nelson, Vera Farmiga in The Departed, Emily Blunt in The Devil Wears Prada), but even that seems a terribly small number of performances to have in the hunt.

Much of this, of course, is fueled by marketing departments, who spend millions to get their actresses into the Oscar race...or who don't, letting the performances fade into obscurity. Is Kikuchi is an Oscar favorite because of her performance...or because of the trade advertising, screenings, DVD screeners, press stories, and celebrity events that have touted the cast of Babel? (Hint: she's good, but not that good.) It's just reality: studios get behind some candidates, while other actresses get none. Carmen Maura in Volver, Juliette Binoche in Breaking and Entering, Emily Watson in Miss Potter, Lili Tomlin in A Prairie Home Companion, and Maribel Verdu in Pan's Labyrinth leap immediately to mind as victims of poor marketing.

No one was more forgotten in 2006, however, than the phenomenal Kerry Washington and her strong, passionate performance in The Last King of Scotland. She has a history, sadly, of being forgotten (Ray, Lift, The Human Stain); this year, Scotland's marketing quickly coalesced around Forest Whitaker (also very deserving) for Best Actor and jettisoned campaigns for the other actors and creative team. But as Kay, the emotionally trapped young wife of Idi Amin, Washington should have been a contender: she is the glue that holds the film together in its turbulent middle section, a sincere emotional center in the struggle between the dictator and his Scottish doctor. The film simply couldn't exist without her.

That Washington can manage the difficult juxtapositions of softness and brutality in Kay's world is a testament to her talent, but there's something even more astonishing in her silences. Her expressing face and deep, evocative eyes convey the thoughts in Kay's mind that cannot be spoken aloud; her inability to speak them reveals the true psychological torment of living under the thumb of an oppressor. Kay is not a smart woman, and navigating the complex political waters ultimately prove impossible. Washington gives Kay a bittersweet dignity, however, which makes the character last in memory long after her screen time is over.

If there was any justice in the world, there'd be a spot at this year's Oscars for Kerry Washington. Sadly, it's already been decided, it seems...and without much regard for the performances they seek to honor. Let the best marketing department win!

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