Want an Oscar: Play Disabled. Or Gay. Or Both!
It’s not that Christopher Plummer didn’t deserve an Oscar for "Beginners." As our reviewer here noted, this was one of the better gay-themed films in recent years. And certainly, Plummer, one of our finest living actors, deserved an Oscar in a career that has given him fame (he’ll never live down Capt. Von Trapp) and juicy roles (he recently did "King Lear" in New York, the Olympus of male parts).
It’s also true that the Supporting Actor category is often viewed by the Academy voters, who are on the whole pretty old themselves, as a sort-of stand-in Lifetime Achievement Award; e.g., Alan Arkin in "Little Mary Sunshine"; Heath Ledger ("The Dark Knight"); Morgan Freeman ("Million Dollar Baby"); Michael Caine ("The Cider House Rules"); etc.
But it’s also notable how many times the Academy awards an actor for playing gay; e.g., William Hurt ("Kiss of the Spider Woman"); Tom Hanks ("Philadelphia"); Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Capote"); Sean Penn ("Milk"); Hilary Swank ("Boys Don’t Cry"); Charlize Theron ("Monster").
The Academy also loves when people play a character with a physical or mental handicap or addiction. Examples: Angelina Jolie ("Girl, Interrupted"); Patty Duke ("The Miracle Worker"); Ray Milland ("The Lost Weekend"); Cliff Robertson ("Charley’); Dustin Hoffman ("Rain Man"); Daniel Day-Lewis ("My Left Foot"); Al Pacino ("Scent of a Woman"); Ingrid Bergman ("Gaslight"); Jane Wyman ("Johnny Belinda"); many, many more.
When an actor used to take on a gay role, people talked about it being "brave." Actually, being driven to an air-conditioned trailer to emerge and say a few lines isn’t something I consider "brave." Staring at a string of hills in Afghanistan full of snipers, yeah, that’s "brave." But then, we’re talking about Hollywood, where hyperbole is the lingua franca of the town.
What bothers me is that playing gay is somehow considered a stretch, something so outside of the actor’s normative scope that it requires, like the embodiment of blindness or autism, an "otherness."