Melissa Leo gave a painful acceptance speech last night when she won the Oscar for best supporting actress. She dropped the F-bomb and went on ineloquently for entirely too long.
Nevertheless, she’s a 50-year-old woman succeeding in an ageist, male-dominated world and I couldn’t help rooting for her, despite her confounding “Consider” campaign, above. And there are too few female celebrities close to my age who are truly talented and whom I admire.
The tension between wanting to support her for her stats but not enjoying her speech (and wondering if I actually admired her as a person) brings me to something I’ve had to come to terms with regarding several of my favorite artists, both male and female: Sometimes you have to separate the art from the artist.
The first time this occurred to me was after I read a biography of Bob Dylan circa 1991. He became my favorite musical artist in high school in 1985 the first time I heard the song “We Are the World.” Don’t ask me why his strange voice appealed to me so much, but it launched an obsession that continues until this day.
But when I read the biography, I realized that he was kind of a jerk sometimes and did weird things. The lovely folk singer persona that I’d created in my mind didn’t match what I was reading. After finishing the book and mulling this a bit, I realized I could still like his music.
Same goes for Melissa Leo. She is a brilliant actor. Does she also have to be an example for women older than 40? Maybe we need to pay more attention to the work and less to the personality, like we do our dentists and accountants. If they keep our teeth clean and balance our books, we’re happy. We don’t need to know their age or whether they eat meat. I imagine the shift of values would trickle up to film companies, which would begin to place more importance on telling great stories instead of appealing to a certain (young, beautiful) demographic. Wouldn’t it be awesome if directors didn’t think: “Oh I can’t hire her because she’s 45.” Instead it would be: “That woman’s acting rules, I need her in my film.”
Of course I’m assuming that focusing only on the work is possible and I’m making it sound pretty easy, which it’s not, especially when you consider the popularity of reality television. Everyone wants to know who these people are, what they eat for breakfast, how they raise their kids. Their work is secondary, and in many cases any work at all is hard to find. But just consider it a suggestion. We can’t expect celebrities to be role models just because they’re famous. Let’s appreciate what they’re good at creating, and look to our friends and family when it comes to finding people worthy of our admiration and emulation. Because they’re the ones we can really hope to know and understand.
Side note: New York Magazine’s The Vulture just reported that Leo will play Jesse Eisenberg’s mom in the upcoming film Predisposed.
P.S. I liked Melissa Leo’s Marc Bouwer dress.