The Oscars should do a better job recognizing young actors (but only the good ones)

The Academy Awards ceremony takes forever. It always runs long. Awards bleed together, recipients are played off before their speeches are finished, and there are always about three pretentious montages too many.

Having said all of that, here’s my proposal: The Oscars should add another award.

They should add another award because as things stand, there’s a group of actors that currently get overlooked, regardless of the quality of their performance: children.

Well, and animals, but let’s not get crazy. Children in films can play a pivotal role, and while there’s nothing worse than a bad child actor (most of them), when a kid or teenager gives a legitimately powerful performance, it should be recognized as such.

But as things stand now, that’s just not going to happen. They can be nominated, and some have been in recent years. A quick glance at Wikipedia’s list of the youngest (and oldest) nominees tells us that nominees under the age of 18 are rare indeed, though the Best Supporting Actress category has seen its fair share. (Which probably says quite a bit about Hollywood.)

Recent years have seen some fantastic performances by young actors, though. In 2o16, Lion star Sunny Pawar did amazing work, but wasn’t recognized with a nomination. The Hollywood Reporter argues that in order to properly recognize Pawar, the Academy should bring back the Juvenile Award, which was once a thing:

Three years later, a child superstar was in serious contention for an Academy Award when 6-year-old Shirley Temple, who starred in 10 hit films in 1934, started to look like a sure thing for a best actress nom. So the Academy’s board of governors took action, creating a “special award,” roughly half the size of the standard Oscar, and presenting it to her on Oscar night.

A similar statuette was given to a total of 12 performers during the span of 25 years: from Temple in 1935 to 14-year-old Hayley Mills for Pollyanna in 1961.

Then, in 1962, 16-year-old Patty Duke was nominated for — and won — a best supporting actress Oscar nomination for The Miracle Worker without the world falling apart. That apparently convinced the Academy’s governors that young people could compete with adults, and the board discontinued the Juvenile Award.

However, over the more than half-century since, only two other minors have won an acting Oscar: 10-year-old Tatum O’Neal for Paper Moon (1973) and 11-year-old Anna Paquin for The Piano (1993), both in the best supporting actress category.

It’s an idea with merit. The Juvenile Award wasn’t a traditional category; there weren’t nominees or “winners,” per se. Rather, if a young actor’s performance wasn’t recognized with an actual nomination, they were awarded this trophy instead. The Hollywood Reporter argues for a return to this philosophy:

So why doesn’t the Academy take three minutes out of each Oscars ceremony to celebrate a star of tomorrow? And why not start with Pawar?

The Academy’s board of governors should meet and confer upon him a Juvenile Award to be presented Feb. 26 — and then plan to meet every year after the nominations are announced to determine whether a great child performance has been overlooked and is worthy of receiving special recognition.

That’s certainly better than no recognition. Recent potential winners of such an award would have probably included Jacob Tremblay (Room), or Quvenzhane Wallis for 2012’s Beasts of the Southern Wild. But Wallis was actually nominated, as was Hailee Steinfeld for 2010’s True Grit, perhaps the best recent example of a young actor propelling the entire movie.

With a Juvenile Award, a nomination might be considered award enough, which isn’t really the fairest way to do things, since it’s been well-established that no kid is going to win, regardless of nomination. (If Haley Joel Osment didn’t get it for The Sixth Sense, that’s a fair assumption.)

But with a Juvenile Award, would that prevent voters from including young actors in the regular categories? (Sort of like how some baseball voters hesitate to vote for pitchers when considering a MVP Award, reasoning they already have their own category with the Cy Young Award.)

The Oscars currently have a similar situation with the Best Animated Feature award, though movies like Up and Toy Story 3 have transcended that category and broken through to the traditional Best Picture race.

It’s certainly a loaded decision. But in the end, more kids should be recognized for their accomplishments when they’re deserving. Not every child actor has an illustrious adult career, as disheartening as that is to contemplate. They deserve a recognition for a job well done, as much as any other category of actor or technician. They’re filling roles that can’t be done by just anyone.

The next time you watch a movie with a bad child actor, think about how much of a drag on your viewing experience it is. A gifted young actor can provide the inverse of that.

If it means Jonathan Lipnicki would be walking around as an Oscar winner right now, that’s a small price to pay.

About Jay Rigdon

Jay is a writer and editor for The Comeback, and a contributor at Awful Announcing. He is not a strong swimmer.

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