For the entire run-up to this year’s Oscar nominations, Oprah Winfrey seemed a lock for a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role in Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Playing the wife of Forest Whitaker‘s eponymous butler, Winfrey looked to be everything the Academy dreamed of in a nominee: a very famous person playing a serious role in a historical drama that audiences loved. She had already scored both SAG and BAFTA nominations, signposts pointing towards the TV host receiving her first Oscar nomination in 28 years.
And yet, when the nominations were announced Thursday morning, Oprah’s name was nowhere to be found. Neither was anyone else’s from The Butler – the film was shut out entirely.
In a year full of surprises, Winfrey’s absence in the nominations comes as the biggest shock, for a few reasons.
• The film seemed to have everything going for it. The Butler is a decades-spanning travelogue through all the milestones of America’s Civil Rights history. It’s the kind of feel-good middlebrow entertainment that the Academy has always loved. (Remember The Help?) And, to top it off, it was a surprise box-office smash.
• Oprah’s role was perfect Oscar bait. In The Butler, Oprah plays Gloria Gaines, the long-suffering wife of a good man who makes mistakes. According to our math, 99% of all Best Supporting Actress slates have had a character who falls into this category.
• And she’s great in it. Gloria Gaines is a big, showy role, and Oprah gives it her all. “Oprah’s performance was the opposite of subtle,” wrote Stephanie Zacharek at Slate. “I just cannot forget that moment when, seething with resentment she rises from the couple’s marital bed, goes to the mirror, and – in a moment of feral femininity – meticulously applies a coat of lipstick.”
• She’s come close to Oscar gold before. The Academy loves to reward its favorites, and Oprah is among them. She was nominated as Best Supporting Actress for The Color Purple (losing to Dianne Wiest of Hannah and Her Sisters) and received a Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award just two years ago.
• She’s Oprah. Again, she’s Oprah. Everyone loves her.
Still, we aren’t feeling too sorry for Ms. Winfrey. We’re sure she’ll find something in that $7 million palace in the sky to console her.
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