Memo to Oscar voters: Nominate Hailee Steinfeld in Lead

Is Hailee Steinfeld guilty of the Oscar crime of “category fraud”? While Paramount has been positioning her as a supporting actress in “True Grit,” many pundits, including this one, have proclaimed her to be a leading lady. After all, just who is she supporting in the film? The plot of the picture centers around her desire to avenge the death of her father.

Yet, almost all of the accolades for the rookie actress have been bestowed in the supporting field. The Broadcast Film Critics Assn., who hand out the Critics Choice awards, as well as regional critics groups ranging from Austin TX to Washington DC have classified Steinfeld as a supporting player.

The Screen Actors Guild prepares lists of all eligible performances to aid voters when casting their ballots. SAG members have little choice but to vote according to the categories dictated by the studios, and heeded Paramount’s call that Steinfeld be categorized as a Supporting Actress and nominated her as such.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, on the other hand, didn’t buy into the company line, and decreed that Steinfeld be considered a Lead Actress. However, In the end, the HFPA snubbed “True Grit” completely.

When the actors branch voters received their Oscar ballots this week, they also got a letter from academy governors Ed Begley, Jr., Annette Bening and Tom Hanks explaining that they alone should determine whether a performance belongs in the Leading or Supporting category and should not pay any attention to where any given studio chooses to promote their contenders, or be swayed by the judgments of any awards-giving groups.

Two years ago, Kate Winslet was being pushed as a Supporting Actress contender for “The Reader” despite being the focus of the film. The reason for this shift downwards was that Winslet gave a leading performance in another movie — “Revolutionary Road” — directed by her then-husband Sam Mendes. While other awards groups, including the HFPA, heeded her wishes, at the Oscars she was nominated and won Lead Actress for “The Reader.”

The general consensus is that performances by children and juveniles should always be deemed supporting, regardless of the size of the part. Although Tatum O’Neal dominated “Paper Moon,” she won the Supporting Actress Oscar in 1973. The one exception of late came in 2003 when Keisha Castle-Hughes was bumped up to lead for her role in “Whale Rider.” She lost the Oscar to Charlize Theron (“Monster”).

Photo: Hailee Steinfeld in “True Grit” (Paramount)

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