Everybody knows that sexism is rampant in Hollywood—in fact, the entire industry is currently being investigated by the federal government for discrimination against women, particularly concerning female directors. But, what a lot of people don’t realize is that the sexism goes the other way, too. While Hollywood likes to hire young women instead of older women, they also like to hire older, more established men instead of young men. Looking at the case of child actors, this leaves a lot of young men and boys with little to no work.
One reason for this is Hollywood’s obsession over beauty and youth, especially when it comes to actresses. In fact, looking at the Academy Awards’ history, winners and nominees tend to skew about 7-10 years younger in the female acting categories than in the male acting categories. This essentially benefits younger actresses and older actors, which makes looking at the history of child actors utterly fascinating.
This year brought about a particularly interesting case of sexism in Room, which has been nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Leading Actress. If you haven’t seen the movie, don’t worry—all you need to know is that it concerns a mother and her young son. The mother’s role—played by 26 year-old Brie Larson—was nominated for an Oscar; the son’s—played by newcomer Jacob Tremblay—was not.
I’m not attributing the lack of an Oscar nomination for Tremblay to sexism; rather, pointing out that it highlights an interesting trend. In fact, while Tremblay had been nominated for a few precursor awards (most notably, the SAG Award), most awards prognosticators were not predicting him to be nominated for the Oscar. But those same prognosticators—and just about everybody who sees the movie—all seem to agree on something else, too: Tremblay most definitely deserved to be nominated, whether he got the nomination or not.
I agree with this sentiment, and while some other actors definitely deserved to be nominated as well, like I said, Tremblay’s snub points out a trend. I started looking into child actors who have been nominated for an Academy Award, and noticed something interesting: the Academy heavily favors female child actors over male ones. If you look at the data throughout history (I’m looking at ages 0-13), this trend becomes all the more apparent.
Actors Nominated for an Academy Award ages 0-13: (winners in bold)
- Justin Henry for Kramer vs. Kramer (1979): age 8
- Jackie Cooper for Skippy (1931): age 9
- Brandon deWilde for Shane (1953): age 11
- Haley Joel Osment for The Sixth Sense (1999): age 11
- Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012): age 9
- Tatum O’Neil for Paper Moon (1973): age 10
- Mary Badham for To Kill a Mockingbird (1962): age 10
- Quinn Cummings for The Goodbye Girl (1977): age 10
- Abigail Breslin for Little Miss Sunshine (2006): age 10
- Anna Paquin for The Piano (1993): age 11
- Patty McCormack for The Bad Seed (1956): age 11
- Saoirse Ronan for Atonement (2007): age 13
- Keisha Castle-Hughes for Whale Rider (2003): age 13
If we extend the age range by just one year, we can add at least three more female performances to the list (there could be more but I couldn’t find any), but no male ones:
- Bonita Granville for These Three (1936): age 14
- Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit (2010): age 14
- Jodie Foster for Taxi Driver (1976): age 14
Even more of note: none of the nominated male performances fall within the 21st century, while five of the female performances do. In fact, over a quarter of the female nominees under 14 come in the past 13 years. Additionally, as you can see above, there are only four male performances ever nominated, with nine female performances up to age 13 and twelve up to age 14. A lot of this is probably because male actors are hired less, and thus given less chances to be nominated for awards, but that doesn’t make the trend any less troubling.
Either way, it’s clear that Hollywood prefers its actresses younger, and this trope transfers over to child actors as well. I’m sure I could write a whole piece on how older female actresses are affected by this trend (although Charlotte Rampling—nominated this year at age 70 for her work in 45 Years—became the ninth oldest female nominee of all time), but a million of those articles have already been written (just Google it), and I could find very few on child actors.
What’s most interesting about this trend is how male actors are being affected by sexism that originated as being towards females. By towards females, I mean that females have always been objectified—and thus hired more—in the industry, as traditionally male audiences would rather stare at a young actress than a young actor. But things are changing. I recently read a report on how the majority of moviegoers are female nowadays, which might help usher in more female-driven features instead of male-dominated blockbusters.
Still, it seems to be that the industry is specifically against rewarding male child actors, rather than being specifically for rewarding female child actors. I could be wrong. Either way, it’s an example of sexism and it needs to stop so that actors are evaluated purely based on their performances and merit and not based on if they’re “established male actors” or “young female ingénues,” as this trend suggests.