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Oscar Circuit: Could Viola Davis See a Best Supporting Actress Campaign?

In a world where the internet explodes with rage over the negative feedback over “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” or the latest incoherent thought from a presidential candidate that gets his hair disheveled on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon,” we approach the point in the early awards season where film campaigns begin to take form. Questions from award pundits are surrounding several films waiting in the wings. Is “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” going to be the visual spectacle that it’s rumored to be? Could “Passengers” make it two in a row for Morten Tyldum? When in God’s name is Paramount Pictures going to set a release date for “Silence?” But now, a new rumor has hit the fray: Could we be looking at a Supporting Actress campaign for Viola Davis‘ upcoming work in “Fences?”

FencesPundits that attended Telluride and TIFF started hearing “rumors” that Davis would be campaigned in Supporting Actress, instead of the presumed run for Best Actress. After reaching out to the awards camp for “Fences,” it appears they are just as baffled by the rumors as anyone.  Producer, director and star Denzel Washington is still in post-production with Academy Award-winning editor Hughes Winborne. No one has seen a cut of the film, making any call on the category placement virtually impossible.

“Yes we’re open to what the role is, and certainly what Viola thinks,” a source from Paramount Pictures says. “We haven’t chatted with her or her team yet as it’s all a bit premature ’til we see the film.”

In 2011, we had a similar conversation that surrounded Davis for her touted and nominated work in “The Help” from Tate Taylor. When the film first dropped in the summer, assumptions from all pundits were that Davis was headed towards an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. After deliberating and speaking with distributor Walt Disney Pictures, it was agreed that she would campaign in Best Actress, eventually losing to Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady” from the Weinstein Company.

On the podcast this weekend, a question was proposed. Is it better to have a talent like Davis lose an Oscar in Lead or to take a seemingly “easier” route to the podium in Supporting? For a talent like Davis, winning an Academy Award in Supporting Actress doesn’t further the cause for African-American filmmakers and performers. Admittedly, I have never seen the stage adaptation of August Wilson’s play “Fences” in order to make any type of declaration that this could indeed be category fraud. Truth is, no one can make any statements until we see the film adaptation. We don’t know how much the role has been trimmed or inflated. We don’t know if her character takes a backseat to Washington’s fiery interpretation. Speaking with those that have seen the stage play, the role is said to “straddle” the line between lead and supporting.

In 1987, Tony Award winner Mary Alice won Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play for playing the same role of Rose. In 2010, Davis played the same role on Broadway, winning the Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play. One year after “category fraud” became the forefront of the awards discussion as performances like Alicia Vikander’s (“The Danish Girl” and “Ex Machina“), Rooney Mara’s (“Carol“), and Jacob Tremblay’s (“Room“) were said to be falsely campaigned in the wrong categories, we can assume a similar discussion may come up this year. Coming out of the summer, there are pundits speaking out against an eventual Supporting Actor bid for Hugh Grant in “Florence Foster Jenkins,” also from distributor Paramount Pictures.

lalalandWith that, a few weeks ago we talked about how “Fences” could become the first film since “The Silence of the Lambs” to win the “Big Five” categories (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and one of the screenplay prizes). If Davis does in fact “go supporting” for her role, that would put “Fences” out of the running for the prestigious honor. Interestingly enough, there are a handful of films that can find themselves in the running for the honor. “La La Land” from Damien Chazelle, just recently bestowed with the People’s Choice Award at TIFF, can find itself in serious contention for a sweep. However, it has its own hurdles to jump through, such as Ryan Gosling winning Best Actor or the fact that a musical hasn’t been nominated in Original Screenplay since 1980’s “Fame.”

Focus Features has two possibilities on their slate with Jeff Nichols‘ “Loving” and Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals.” Looking like longer shots at the moment, the two films have Joel Edgerton and Jake Gyllenhaal to battle it out for Lead Actor with Ruth Negga and Amy Adams (also having another bid for “Arrival“) competing in Lead Actress, respectively. We’re still awaiting any word on Robert Zemeckis’ “Allied,” featuring two Oscar winners in Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. Meanwhile, the upcoming blockbuster “Passengers” from Morten Tyldum will match the likes of Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence to overcome not only a sci-fi stigma, but a rumored non-awards subject matter.

With that, we venture off into the New York Film Festival. This will bring the anxious arrival of “Billy Lynn” from Ang Lee, “The 13th” from Ava DuVernay, “20th Century Women” from Mike Mills and “The Lost City of Z” from James Gray. The Oscar prediction pages have been updated with some subtle but noticeable movements.

michaelshannon_nocturnalanimalsWashington remains a placeholder at No. 1 for “Fences” but Casey Affleck‘s touted work in “Manchester by the Sea” remains a formidable spoiler to the party. Also, the aforementioned Gosling could benefit from a “La La Land” lovefest on the circuit. However, even if nominated, he could go the way of Annette Bening in “American Beauty,” spoiling the sweep.

Davis is holding on the top spot in Best Actress but not far behind is Emma Stone, who feels like the only “lock” we have in any category. Many are joining the conversation to talk about Best Actress as the most competitive race we have this year. Negga, Adams, Bening and Natalie Portman are all possibilities to either unseat someone or miss out in the end. There’s still the anticipation for Taraji P. Henson‘s performance in “Hidden Figures,” who is also said to be a “sure-fire contender.”

Supporting Actor is still looking for a front-runner. Liam Neeson is penciled in for “Silence” but the film is still without a firm release date. If he sits the season out for one reason or another, watch out for Michael Shannon to make a run for the podium for “Nocturnal Animals” or Grant in “Florence Foster Jenkins.” Aaron Eckhart‘s work in “Sully” is sufficient enough to some, but people feel his work in “Bleed for Thisshould be. As seen with past nominees like Catherine Keener in “Capote” or Jessica Chastain in “The Help,” the better film can often be what represents the actor in the end.

Supporting Actress breathes a sigh of relief with Davis not confirmed to enter the fray. Michelle Williams‘ work in “Manchester by the Sea” will be her fourth career nomination, allowing an “overdue” narrative to settle in and dominate the conversation. But don’t relax just yet, because Laura Linney has the same narrative to play for “Nocturnal Animals.” Additionally, Margo Martindale‘s work in John Krasinski’s “The Hollars” has been deemed her best performance to date. After a failed run for “August: Osage County,” perhaps she can find some love in the hands of Sony Pictures Classics.

Check out the individual pages for the Oscar predictions. Make sure to include your own thoughts in the comments below (and on the pages).



What do you think?

Film Lover

Written by Clayton Davis

Clayton Davis is the esteemed Editor and Owner of Born in Bronx, NY to a Puerto Rican mother and Black father, he’s been criticizing film and television for over a decade. Clayton is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association where he votes and attends the kick off to the awards season, the Critics Choice Awards. He also founded the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association, the first Latino-based critics’ organization in the United States. He’s also an active member of the African-American Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, International Press Academy, Black Reel Awards, and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Clayton has been quoted and appeared in various outlets that include The New York Times,, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter.


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