The first Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role was handed out to Janet Gaynor at during a ceremony held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on May 16th, 1929. In an unusual twist, the 22-year-old actress was nominated for three roles: Diane in 7th Heaven, Angela in Street Angel, and “the wife” in Surprise: A Song of Two Humans.
Gaynor would become one of Hollywood’s biggest actresses during the 1930s, but her place in history was cemented when, in 1937, she played Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester in the original A Star Is Born. Ironically, she did not win the Oscar that year. In fact, not one of the actresses who have portrayed the now-iconic role have ever won Hollywood’s highest honour for that part. (Judy Garland was famously snubbed when she lost to Grace Kelly in 1955, and Barbra Streisand didn’t even receive a nomination, despite a win at the Golden Globes.) Now, we have a fourth contender: 90 years after Gaynor first received her first prize, Lady Gaga is nominated for Best Actress for her performance as Ally in the latest iteration of A Star Is Born. But will she break the streak?
In the last year, the movie gods have granted us an unprecedented number of phenomenal performances by women. Some of them, like Gaga’s turn in ASIB, Glenn Close in The Wife, Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me, Yalitza Aparicio in Roma, Olivia Colman in The Favourite, are represented in this year’s crop of Best Actress nominees. Others, like Carey Mulligan’s powerful performance in Wildlife, or Regina Hall’s critically-acclaimed masterclass of acting in Support The Girls, didn’t make the cut. Still, the very fact that we had so many to choose from indicates a positive trend in the industry: roles for women are getting meatier, more interesting, and more complex. And though there’s still more to be done, that’s something worth celebrating.