This Awards season, 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld joins the likes of Jodie Foster and Anna Paquin as an actor nominated for an Academy Award before even reaching adulthood. Steinfeld was chosen from 15,000 girls by the Coen Brothers to star as the leading lady of True Grit. After giving a truly masterful performance, she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Watch an interview and some clips of her performance:
So here’s my question: Why wasn’t she nominated for Best Actress?
In 1931, 9-year-old Jackie Cooper was nominated for Best Actor, and in 2003 Keisha Castle-Hughes was nominated for Best Actress. Those two are the only underage actors to ever be nominated for a leading role. Mickey Rooney was nominated at the age of 19, but the category is decidedly skewed to older actors.
The Academy doesn’t seem to have a problem nominating younger actors for supporting roles, however. Over a dozen young actors have been nominated in the Academy’s history. Just a few years ago, Abigail Breslin was nominated for her performance in Little Miss Sunshine. She was only 10, but she was honest and heartwarming as the young Olive. No matter the quality of her acting, Breslin’s role was decidedly a supporting one. It is impossible to look at Steinfeld’s Mattie Ross and not see her as the leading lady of the movie. She is the narrator and the story is propelled by her, and her role can in no way be defined as supporting.
Perhaps the Academy didn’t want to give the nomination to someone so young; perhaps they didn’t feel she deserved the nomination more than this year’s other nominees for Best Actress but they wanted to recognize her somehow. Regardless, it’s unfair that Steinfeld was shunted down to a less prestigious category when her work deserves a Best Actress nomination.