Among the criticisms of Seth MacFarlane’s Oscars—misogynist, anti-Semitic—there was also concern over the treatment of nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, who was nominated for Best Actress for her performance in Beasts of the Southern Wild. In a tweet soon taken down, The Onion called her a cunt, and the host made a joke about when she would be too old for George Clooney. Both are in questionable taste, but maybe rather than agonizing over the jokes themselves we should ask ourselves why we nominate children for Oscars anyway.
Jackie Cooper was also nine-years-old when he was nominated in 1931 for his lead role in Skippy, and since then 10 children under the age of 13 have been nominated for acting Oscars; Tatum O’Neal famously won Best Supporting Actress at the age of 10 for Paper Moon in 1973, and Anna Paquin won the same award at 11 for The Piano in 1993. The rest lost.
Now, I’m not arguing that children ought to be coddled (though I did receive several participation trophies as a Little Leaguer). But I think there’s a difference between putting a child in a position in which they might lose, say, a sporting event against their peers, and one in which they’ll lose the most coveted trophy in the world to titans of the field in front of a billion people across the globe. It seems, at my most generous, unkind; we don’t ask awesome nine-year-old soccer players to play a game against Cristiano Ronaldo and broadcast it in dozens of countries. But furthermore, do children even deserve such recognition?
Like any art, acting is a craft; there are those with a natural predisposition for it, sure, and all of the children nominated for Oscars delivered strong performances. But having the ability to act naturally as a child doesn’t necessarily translate into being a great Actor, into being someone with the potential to have a long and respected career in varied roles. (Of course, neither does being Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball…) Should we then award them with trophies? I guess that depends on what an Oscar Means, and honestly I don’t know, but if I were Jennifer Lawrence and some kid beat me, I’d probably be a little peeved.
Lastly, it seems to me that The Onion and MacFarlane’s jokes were offensive in large part because they were grown-up jokes about a kid. But look—if we don’t want children subjected to such things, we shouldn’t put them in these sorts of adult contexts to begin with.
Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart