Female stars dominate Academy Awards lineup

Jordan Holman, News Editor

The always witty opening monologue, the occasional inspirational speech, the notorious wardrobe malfunction, and the awkward moment when an award winner speaks well past their allotted time: This is the Oscars, basically the Super Bowl equivalent for anyone invested in the movies. I root for my favorite films and cheer on my most beloved actors.

In recent years, there’s been clear Hollywood standouts. Films like La La Land integrated theatrical elements into an inspiring tale about love and ambition, and Tom McCarthy’s journalistic masterpiece, Spotlight, received accolades the year prior.

This year, however, there seems to be a recurring theme, and it’s not as obvious as the one portrayed at the Golden Globes’ Time’s Up blackout.

It’s the stunning performances by female actors that have dominated the industry. It’s their characters, some real and others fictional, that completely transform us. It’s their subtle messages that have a lasting impact on their audience.

I, Tonya, the story behind the wildly contradictory events that took place just before the 1994 Winter Olympics, stars Margot Robbie as U.S. figure skater Tonya Harding and Allison Janney as her horribly abusive mother. It’s not just a story about Harding’s involvement in a violent attack on fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan.

It dares to go deeper, to explore themes of poverty, class, and truth. Robbie’s sensational performance uncannily portrays a woman who has no knowledge of what it means to be loved. She endured abuse from both her mother and ex-husband, and therefore lacked any sense of validation and self-acceptance.

Because of her circumstances, she was never given a fair shot. Despite this, however, she was a powerhouse figure skater, dynamite on the ice, undeniably strong, on and off the rink.

Director Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird stars Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, a dynamic mother-daughter duo whose equally strong personalities often combat one other. Ronan and Metcalf’s raw performances are sharp and candid, their richness captivating audience members.

The story follows a young woman’s journey from dependent teenager in Sacramento to unprepared adult about to begin college in New York City. As she grows up and eagerly chooses to leave home, she learns to appreciate her “dull” Northern California life and the resolute, intransigent mother who raised her.

Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Katharine Graham, the female publisher of the Washington Post, is authentic and awe-inspiring. The Post, directed by Steven Spielberg, recounts the 1971 publication of the Pentagon Papers that exposed government secrecy surrounding the Vietnam War.

This movie is politically powerful. It tackles moral, legal, and journalistically strategic decisions and emphasizes our right to freedom of the press, while stressing the importance of democracy.

Although a marvelous promotion of investigative reporting and ethical journalism, it is Katharine Graham’s empowering journey that leaves most audience members yearning for more.

Many people believed that women didn’t have the resolve to make the tough choices that could determine the fate of the paper, yet Graham proves that they most certainly do.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri swept the Golden Globes in January. It follows the story of a woman’s relentless quest to avenge her daughter’s rapist and murderer by posting three billboards to expose the police’s apathetic efforts toward finding the man behind this horrendous crime.

Mildred Hayes is the definition of feminine strength. Frances McDormand’s performance is breathtaking, frighteningly beautiful, and my personal prediction for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Her character, beaten down by tragedy, is darkly comedic.

The film’s hidden themes of gender inequality are carried out perfectly by McDormand’s compelling presentation of undying persistence.

Every woman in these movies overcomes a patriarchal obstacle. Harding learns to be emotionally detached from her abusive husband; Lady Bird gains a renewed sense of self-worth after coming out of a relationship; Graham battles against a predominantly male staff and fights for the future of the Washington Post; and Hayes demonstrates unwavering strength in the face of inadequate, chauvinistic policemen.

Whether it be a direct Hollywood jab at our current political system or a realization that these tales of female heroism need to be shared, these women’s fierce performances are sure to be met with praise at the 90th annual Academy Awards airing Sunday, March 4.


Fun Facts about this year’s female Oscar nominees:

  • Greta Gerwig is only the fifth female director to be nominated for Best Director and the first since 2010, when Kathryn Bigelow won for The Hurt Locker.
  • This is Meryl Streep’s 21st nomination. She continues to be the most nominated performer in history. Her three wins were in Kramer v. Kramer (1979), Sophie’s Choice (1982), and The Iron Lady (2011).
  • Rachel Morrison, director of photography for Mudbound, is the first female to be nominated for cinematography.
  • Emily V. Gordon is nominated for best original screenplay in The Big Stick.
  • The Shape of Water, starring Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer, leads the pack with 13 Oscar nominations.