Let’s End The ‘Best Supporting Actress’ Curse Now

Da’Vine Joy Randolph was grateful to win an Academy Award—and hopeful that it won’t be her last opportunity.

Patrick T. Fallon / AFP / Getty

You know you’ve delivered an Oscars speech for the history books when your fellow nominees are getting teary. Da’Vine Joy Randolph, who won the Best Supporting Actress trophy tonight for her work in The Holdovers, spoke about her career with such earnest passion that she received no shortage of weepy faces from her competitors: Jodie Foster could be seen welling up, as could America Ferrera.

Randolph thanked her mother, her acting teacher, and even her publicist—a funny role reversal. But as she directed her appreciation toward specific people in her life, her speech also acknowledged the rarity of an ascendance like hers—to win an Oscar after wondering if there were a future in acting for her, as a curvy Black actress. “For so long, I’ve always wanted to be different,” Randolph said. “And now I realize I just need to be myself, and I thank you for seeing me.”

It was a great Oscars speech—sentimental without being cloying, personal while still being resonant. But what made it more than a memorable moment was something Randolph said toward the end: “I pray to God that I get to do this more than once.”

Randolph, who was speaking through tears about her own experience, probably didn’t mean for the line to be a warning to those in the room. Yet Hollywood has a long history of celebrating new or underappreciated faces in the Best Supporting Actress category—only for their career to either stall or fail to reach similar heights afterward. Consider the category’s presenters: Five previous winners were onstage to introduce the nominees, a format that the Oscars hasn’t used since 2009. Lupita Nyong’o, who spoke about Randolph, won an Oscar 10 years ago for 12 Years a Slave but did not lead a film until five years later, in 2019’s Us. Meanwhile, Regina King, who won the Oscar in 2019 for If Beale Street Could Talk and spoke about Danielle Brooks’s performance in The Color Purple, is finally leading a film, the upcoming Shirley Chisholm biopic.

This phenomenon has been called the “Best Supporting Actress Curse,” and although it doesn’t apply to every winner, it has seemed to strike women such as Marisa Tomei, Jennifer Hudson, Kim Basinger, and Mo’Nique, all of whom struggled to land meaty parts in movies after taking home the award. There might be nothing conspiratorial about such woes—the category tends to reward ingenues and Hollywood newcomers, and nothing guarantees a robust movie career, not even a shining moment as bright as Oscars success. Some actresses take other routes too: After her win, for instance, King directed her first feature film. Yet taking home one of the industry’s most prestigious awards might seem to indicate that an actress is one worth paying attention to, making it more conspicuous when they’re seemingly nowhere to be seen, or limited to more supporting parts.

I don’t mean to get all serious about Randolph’s victory, or introduce some doubt about what might come next for her. But her closing words don’t need to be only those of an actress hoping for her next great part. They can be a reminder—especially to those at the Oscars with the power to make such decisions—to expand the possibilities available to performers of all kinds. Her trophy is already a validation of her talent; let us keep seeing that talent on the screen.

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