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6 Infamous Oscar Snubs for Best Actress

Margot Robbie’s snub at the Oscars for Best Actress is unfortunate, but nothing new. There are numerous examples and reasons as to why Oscar-worthy performances were snubbed, and they all have some sort of baggage.

Margot Robbie at a "Barbie" walkway.
Credit: ScreenSlam/YouTube

The nominations for the 96th Academy Awards Ceremony have proven to be rather controversial, to say the least. In particular, “Barbie” had a number missing nominations, including Margot Robbie for Best Actress. Meanwhile, Ryan Gosling has gotten the nomination for Best Supporting Actor in the same film.

Aside from being ironic considering the plot of the movie, it’s also just plain idiotic. Even if you didn’t agree with the politics of the film, you can’t deny Robbie’s Grade A performance. The Academy did though. It shows that through the almost 100 years of the Academy’s existence, nothing has really changed.

Barbie and Ken in the car together (Barbie 2023).
Barbie (Margot Robbie) and Ken (Ryan Gosling) driving from Barbie Land to Los Angeles. Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Since its creation in 1927, the Academy has been largely comprised of men, and thus there is a voter bias. Even in other categories like Best Screenplay or Best Director – topical for “Barbie” – the win still tends to go towards men. And unfortunately, this can make categories like the Best Actress category not be the most fair or sensible.

There have been some reforms and betterments, but it’s still the same institution plagued by politics, hierarchy, and scandal. Margot Robbie’s snub is nothing new. The Academy has a wide history of snubbing worthy performances in the Best Actress category. With this list, hopefully these stars will get some deserved praise.

– DISCLAIMER – Just because the women in this list didn’t win an Oscar doesn’t mean the actual winners also didn’t deserve their win. The Oscars are complicated. –

Bette Davis in 1934’s “Of Human Bondage”

Bette Davis looking maniacally into the camera.
Mildred Rogers (Bette Davis) stares directly into the camera with her glass. Credit: RKO Radio Pictures

In 1934, Bette Davis has finally found the role that suited her most in the film “Of Human Bondage.” She plays the manipulative waitress Mildred Rogers, and her performance is fiery and explosive. She commands every scene she’s in, whether she’s quiet and intent or loud and dangerous.

Critics adored her and believed that she would win the Best Actress Oscar. She wasn’t even nominated.

At the time, the Best Actress category only had three nominations, and there was no Best Supporting Actor/Actress category yet. Davis was also contracted with Warner Bros. but made a movie with RKO, so the studios likely didn’t want to create campaign competition with each other. The win went instead to Claudette Colbert for her performance in “It Happened One Night.”

However, audiences and critics protested the choice, and the Academy decided to respond. They elected to give Bette Davis a write-in status at the final ballot, meaning that she was “technically” nominated. The Academy’s website still lists Davis as a nominee, even though she really wasn’t.

Judy Garland in 1954’s “A Star is Born”

Esther Blodgett sings at a club late.
Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland) sings a number at a club. Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

In 1954, Judy Garland made her comeback performance in the musical “A Star is Born.” She plays the talented and wide-eyed Esther Blodgett, and she’s as gifted and musically inclined as she ever was. If it’s not a heartthrob of a scene, her numbers more than display her talent as a singer.

Now, the life of Judy Garland is a tragedy in on itself. She developed a pill addiction in order to stay awake and sleep due to the studio’s demanding schedule. She was harassed many times by studio producers and executives. And, she would suffer breakdowns on set and commit self-harm.

After a break from films starting in the late ’40s, she returned with “A Star is Born,” and exhibited the same behaviors. It caused production delays and budget inflations, making the film have the most expensive budget at the time. To the studios, an Oscar win would encourage her behavior even more.

She lost her win to Grace Kelly in “The Country Girl.” Garland would be nominated again for “Judgement at Nuremberg” in 1961, but for Best Supporting Actress. She died in 1969 of a drug overdose.

Shirley MacLaine in 1960’s “The Apartment”

Fran Kubelik (Shirley McLaine, left) and C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon, right) are talking to each other on the elevator.
Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine, left) and C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon, right) are talking to each other on the elevator. Credit: United Artists

In 1960, Shirley MacLaine got to show off her range and talent in “The Apartment.” She plays the down-on-her-luck elevator girl Fran Kubelik, and it’s possibly the best performance in her career. Director Billy Wilder’s script allows her to be sweet, sorrowful, pitiful, and so much more.

Considering the film’s success in winning three other Oscars, including Best Picture, why didn’t MacLaine win? Because this story really isn’t about Shirley MacLaine, it’s about Elizabeth Taylor.

In the late ’50s, the Academy was rather conservative and didn’t approve of Taylor’s numerous marriages and affairs. She was nominated for Best Actress for three consecutive years in films she could’ve won, but no win. Taylor finally won for the film “BUtterfield 8,” where she played a woman who has an affair with a married man. It’s a good performance in a bad movie.

And then, Taylor nearly died of pneumonia during the making of another movie. If she didn’t have an emergency tracheotomy, Taylor would’ve died. The Academy, realizing this, awarded her a Best Actress Oscar for “BUtterfield 8” basically out of pity.

MacLaine would later jokingly remark that she “lost to a tracheotomy.”

Cicely Tyson in 1972’s “Sounder”

Rebecca Morgan (Cicely Tyson) solemnly stands alone.
Rebecca Morgan (Cicely Tyson) solemnly stands alone. Credit: 20th Century Fox

In 1972, Cicely Tyson pulled off a very emotion-filled and powerful performance in “Sounder.” She plays the mother of a struggling family during the Great Depression, and what can I really say? Her performance is one of the most raw and bare to ever grace the silver screen, and would earn her an Oscar today.

However, the odds were stacked against her, as it was for many other African-American actors. In early Hollywood, the roles that African-Americans were offered were severely limited, if allowed to be on screen. Even in the 1970’s, only one black actress was ever nominated for Best Actress: Dorothy Dandridge in 1954.

Cicely Tyson wasn’t even the only black nominee for the Best Actress Oscar. There was also Diana Ross for playing Billie Holiday in “Lady Sings the Blues.” Neither of these women won the award, instead being gifted to Liza Minnelli for “Cabaret.”

Now, only one black actress so far has won the Best Actress Oscar: Halle Barry in 2002. However, considering the cinematographer made Tyson redo a scene because his watery eyes couldn’t tell if he got the shot, it likely should’ve happened sooner.

Geena Davis & Susan Sarandon in 1991’s “Thelma & Louise”

Thelma Dickinson (Geena Davis, right) and Louise Sawyer (Susan Sarandon, left) sit atop a car.
Thelma Dickinson (Geena Davis, right) and Louise Sawyer (Susan Sarandon, left) sit atop a car. Credit: MGM-Pathé Communications

In 1991, we got the cool combo of Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon in “Thelma & Louise.” The two play badass outlaws escaping Mexico, and their combination makes for one of the most entertaining duos ever. While undoubtedly badass, there are moments of comedy and tenderness that really make these performances count.

Both Dickinson and Sawyer were nominated for Best Actress, so they would’ve had to compete. Unfortunately, neither of them won, with the Oscar instead going to Jodie Foster for “Silence of the Lambs.”

Part of the problem comes down to their duo. If you liked “Thelma & Louise” and you were able to vote for Best Actress, which one would you pick? These two are so linked as a duo, that it’s kind of unfair to have to choose between the two. It’s picking one half of a whole. This difficult choice lead their votes to be split.

There’s also a feminist angle you could view this decision. Why Jodie’s character Clarice worked within the system, Thelma and Louise rebelled and fought against it. It’s a sort of direct and powerful message in feminism that can be difficult for some people to absorb. Perhaps the Academy went with the safer, institutional option.

Salma Hayek in 2002’s “Frida”

Frida Kahlo (Salma Hayek) works on a canvas.
Frida Kahlo (Salma Hayek) works on a canvas. Credit: Miramax Films

In 2002, Salma Hayek finally released her passion project with director Julie Taymor: “Frida.” Hayek’s performance as the titular Frida Kahlo is honestly underrated. This unconventional biopic of the famous Mexican artist allows for an intimate performance that serves the narrative well.

Why Salma Hayek didn’t get the Oscar is complicated abhorrent. Hayek was also nominated along side Nicole Kidman in “The Hours” – the winner – and Renée Zellweger in “Chicago.” All three movies belonged to Miramax, and thus Harvey Weinstein.

Salma Hayek approached Miramax, thinking her passion project would finally get made with them. It would, but Weinstein’s clear bias towards other films like “Gangs of New York” and “Chicago” would make campaigning difficult. Hayek’s efforts weren’t being recognized by Harvey Weinstein.

Unfortunately, Weinstein wouldn’t recognize Hayek as a person either. Hayek has since released her stories of harassment and advances with the bastard during the MeToo Movement. She has said that, “in his eyes, I was not an artist. I wasn’t even a person. I was a thing: not a nobody, but a body.”

Harvey Weinstein is currently serving 39 years in prison.

Final Thoughts

Progress has been made to make for fairer and more diverse winners and representation, but there is still work to be done. It’s still that same institution, and industry, that hasn’t been particularly fair or to women. It shows that not much really has changed, and it’s still continues to affect actresses, and likely still will. Until something is done, then Margot Robbie’s snub will probably be just another footnote.

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