Every year, Vanity Fair puts out a Hollywood Issue during award season, timed as Oscar momentum is building. This year, since the Oscars are earlier, the Hollywood Issue has come out earlier, just one day after Oscar nominations were announced. And, well, the timing is… 

The front cover features Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Lopez, and Renee Zellweger. The conversation now is about how two out of these three cover subjects were snubbed by the Academy. Renee seems to be the favourite in the Best Actress category. Her performance as Judy Garland in Judy is amazing. Really, really amazing. It’s also the kind of performance that the Academy responds to: a woman who is struggling, a woman of Hollywood, a woman torn down, a woman in pain and past her prime. It’s not that Renee doesn’t do a good job – she does a GREAT job – it’s that this happens to be where we find her in the narrative, where voters are seeing Judy in her own story; not in command of all her gifts, but at a time when she had lost them. This is the story and the timeline they appreciate most. 

I’m talking about this to contrast with Jennifer Lopez’s character, Ramona, in Hustlers. I already wrote yesterday about why her not being nominated for Best Supporting Actress is a snub from the perspective of standard, of the Academy’s standard of “range” and who gets recognised for having it or not having it and what films and performances get to be considered “Oscar worthy”. Nobody questions that a film like 1917 is Oscar worthy because – war, freedom, courage! Fine. But how is Bohemian Rhapsody Oscar worthy but Hustlers not? How is A Star is Born Oscar worthy but Hustlers not? The difference is in familiarity and comfort. We know Queen and Freddie Mercury, the music, his death, and we all know the dream of falling in love with a famous person and becoming famous ourselves. 

But a stripper who scams rich men and isn’t sorry? A woman who exploits the only thing the world has told her that she has – her body – and uses misogyny to her advantage, finds the loophole in a corrupt system so that she can taste a temporary victory, and perhaps most controversially, doesn’t, over the course of the film, express or perform the kind of repentant regret that we’ve been conditioned to want to see? Those aren’t the female characters that are typically considered artistically prestigious. They don’t reward dangerous women. 

Please. That’s just JLo. It’s not serious art. They don’t see the suffering in it – or at least their definition of how suffering should be performed. Comedic performances are seen in the same way. If it looks fun, it can’t be hard. Which is why comedic performances, undeniably an artform, are so rarely rewarded. This is partly why Eddie Murphy’s electrifying turn as Rudy Ray Moore in Dolemite Is My Name has been largely ignored. But here they both are on the cover of Vanity Fair staring the industry in the face on their artistic bias. On second thought, maybe the timing is actually working. 

Eddie’s gives a great interview to Vanity Fair for this issue though, reflecting on his career and fame, about his approach now to his projects, talking about how many of his artistic elders he’s “buried”, and how he’s managed to survive among his peers in a business that can be cruel, especially to trailblazers like him. And then, at the end, when asked directly about the Oscars:

“How could you be an artist, how can you be an actor and be ambivalent toward it? That’s the highest honor an actor can receive. So I love it when that happens. You know, it means you nailed it. That’s always a good thing. It never sucks to be nominated for an Oscar.” 

Some people walk around hating the process, the awards, embarrassed by them, insisting with every breath that they don’t care about the trophy, reluctant to participate. How is it that the ones who aren’t invited to the party are the ones who respect it most?

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