Sat. Sep 19th, 2020

2020 Oscars: Scream Queens in Best Actress – Is Lupita Nyong’o Next?

Ready to scare up Oscar? (Photo Credit: Claudette Barius/Universal Pictures)

In his AwardsWatch debut, Andrew Carden talks about the history of horror movie scream queens and their luck, and disadvantages, at the Oscars.

Six years since her devastating turn in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave scored her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, Lupita Nyong’o is back in awards season contention, this time in Best Actress for her chilling performance in Jordan Peele’s Us.

With rave reviews and a healthy campaign behind her, including a front page advertisement gracing a recent issue of Variety, Nyong’o appears well-positioned for a return to the Oscars. She must, however, contend with one potential obstacle – horror’s exceedingly hit-or-miss history with the Academy.

Over the course of Oscar history, nine leading ladies from horror films have earned Best Actress nominations: Kathy Bates (Misery), Ellen Burstyn (The Exorcist), Bette Davis (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?), Jodie Foster (The Silence of the Lambs), Audrey Hepburn (Wait Until Dark), Nancy Kelly (The Bad Seed), Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Sissy Spacek (Carrie) and Sigourney Weaver (Aliens). Of these nominees, three – Bates, Foster and Portman – emerged triumphant on Oscar night.

For all of the horror contenders who have made the cut, however, there are just as many, if not more, who missed.

Just last year, despite no shortage of critical acclaim and appearances at a series of precursors, Toni Collette was a no-show on nominations morning for Hereditary. Golden Globe nominee Mia Farrow missed for Rosemary’s Baby – despite Ruth Gordon triumphing down in Best Supporting Actress for the film – and there wasn’t room for Baby Jane’s Joan Crawford to join co-star Davis in Best Actress. Neither Davis nor Olivia de Havilland made the cut for Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, which earned seven Oscar nominations across other categories, and stellar reviews weren’t enough to get Catherine Deneuve across the finish line for Repulsion.

To grab the Academy’s attention, Nyong’o will likely need at least one significant precursor. All nine Best Actress nominees from horror films either scored at least a Golden Globe nomination or a major critics award (or, in the case of Kelly, a Tony Award). Her picture’s release date, in March, may seem a hindrance, but an even earlier February release hardly stopped Foster and The Silence of the Lambs from steamrolling awards season.

With Renee Zellweger (Judy) still looming largest atop Best Actress, Nyong’o is right in there with the likes of Awkwafina (The Farewell), Cynthia Erivo (Harriet), Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story), Saoirse Ronan (Little Women), Charlize Theron (Bombshell) and Alfre Woodard (Clemency), all vying to fill out what is proving yet another dynamite category for leading ladies.

Andrew Carden is a contributing writer at Gold Derby and writes about all things Oscar on his blog, The Awards Connection. When he’s not on Twitter, lamenting Thelma Ritter’s 0-for-6 record in Best Supporting Actress, Andrew works in Massachusetts politics.

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