What kinds of roles do women win Oscars for? To answer that question, Fusion studied the history of the Academy Awards to learn more about the types of performances that Academy members favor. Eighty-eight Oscars have been awarded in each of the Best Actor and Best Actress categories since 1929, and Fusion organized the winners according to the profession of the characters they played.
The picture the numbers paint is, as expected, bleak.
In 2014, we published a feature titled “Stand By Your Man — and Grab That Oscar Nomination.” Turns out we were on to something. The number one role for Oscar-winning actresses is “Wife” at 16%. (Fusion specified, “[I]f a female character were a high-powered businesswoman who also happened to be married, we didn’t label her as “wife” — the categories of spouse and widow or widower were only applied when they were vital to a character’s identity, typically in the absence of a career. For those of you playing along at home, all but 19 of these Oscar-winning roles were assigned to just one occupational category.”
Coming in at #2 is Entertainer (14%), at #3 Widow (a variation on “Wife”), at #4 Blue Collar/Service (11%), at #5. Socialite/Heiress (8%) and at #6 Prostitute (7%).
The source points out that, unlike a number of Best Actors, no Best Actress winners have played a journalist or military member.
Fusion cites last year’s Oscars as a rare and welcome example of gender parity in the leading actress and actor categories. Julianne Moore (“Still Alice”) and Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”) took home statuettes for playing scientists and professors. As for this year’s ceremony, if Jennifer Lawrence was named Best Actress for “Joy” — a very unlikely outcome, as Brie Larson (“Room”) is the clear frontrunner — the “Hunger Games” star would be the first Best Actress to portray an entrepreneur or business owner since the ’40s, whereas five Best Actors have played such roles since 1994.
Check out Fusion to see the most Oscar-eligible roles for men (number one is none-too-flattering) and for charts comparing and contrasting the professions of Best Actresses and Actors.
Now seems like a fine time to quote the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media — if she can see it, she can be it. The problem is that female characters are outnumbered by male characters and even Best Actresses are often playing supporting roles to their male counterparts onscreen.