Carey Mulligan was last nominated for an Academy Award for her breakout performance in An Education. She didn't win, but the nomination marked her as one to watch in movies to come. And that movie may have arrived — Mulligan now stars as Maud Watts, the protagonist of Suffragette. The new film about the British suffragette movement of the early 20th century features Mulligan as an invented character through which we see the efforts of the women on the ground to obtain equal voting rights and the concomitant respect of the other half of society. These working-class women are footsoldiers in the suffragette movement, resorting finally to civil disobedience to make their voices heard ("Deeds, not words," as their motto goes). So will Carey Mulligan win an Oscar for Suffragette, finally?
Since An Education, Mulligan has starred or supported in a number of films that could have been Oscar contenders — Drive, alongside Ryan Gosling and directed by Nicholas Winding Refn, Shame, with Michael Fassbender and directed by Steve McQueen, and Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coen Brothers film that broke out Oscar Isaac, to name a few. Though these roles have been, for the most part, overlooked in favor of her male co-stars, Mulligan is clearly the standout in Suffragette, though in a field of Oscar contenders that are more woman-fronted than the average crop, that might not be enough to win her the Best Actress award.
Different awards prediction sites have different theories on who will go home with the top prize, but they're fairly unanimous in their predictions for the nominees. According to AwardsCircuit.com, the Best Actress nominees will likely be Brie Larson (Room), Mulligan, Jennifer Lawrence (Joy), Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn), and Cate Blanchett (Truthor Carol), with Larson and Mulligan in the top two most likely to take home the award. GoldDerby.com polled 20 Oscar experts to get their opinions on who is most likely to win, placing nominees Larson and Blanchett (for Carol) at the top of a pack that also included Lawrence, Ronan, and Mulligan (in the last slot). (The site's popular opinion vote places Mulligan's odds slightly better, at fourth out of the five nominees.)
But there are some factors that the numbers can't compute, that count both for and against Suffragette. Consider, for one, the supporting team that made Mulligan's performance possible: A strong-willed and decisive script from screenwriter Abi Morgan in collaboration with director Sarah Gavron, and a much-publicized cameo appearance from Meryl Streep, the Academy darling who plays Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the suffragette movement. When Morgan and Streep last worked together, the result was Oscar-winner The Iron Lady, the Margaret Thatcher biopic that earned Streep a Best Actress win. And like The Iron Lady, Suffragette is propelled by a primarily female cast and crew.
In many cases, an actress can only be as good as the material she's working with, but Mulligan's performance in Suffragette has been the most lauded element of the film. Though it's not a top contender for most prediction sites for Best Picture, Director, or Screenplay awards, Mulligan's work (as Digital Spy wrote, "Mulligan's understated delivery and sheer believability powers the whole piece") gives the film its direction.
But there are other factors at work aside from the a performance alone. At the end of the day, Oscar picks seem infused with political and popular concerns — there's a reason the term "Oscar bait" exists. And the social media controversy around Suffragette might hurt Mulligan's chances next year. For one, there's the uproar over the promotional images published in Time Out London showing each of the cast members sporting shirts that read "I'd rather be a rebel than a slave."
The quote was drawn from a speech by Pankhurst, which Streep delivers with much bravura in Suffragette. It's the closing remark to a statement about the need to resort to physical action when decades of peaceful protest had accomplished little. But some responded that the shirts were insensitive to the resonance of the word "slave" with the lingering effects of American slavery. As a response, Time Out London issued a statement claiming that the quote had been taken out of context, and was "absolutely not intended to criticize those who have no choice but to submit to oppression, or to reference the Confederacy."
The film has also been accused of white-washing, or replacing roles that could be filled by people of color with white women.Salon noted that "the suffragette movement historically excluded women of color," which doesn't exactly excuse the lack of diversity on screen, but perhaps that exclusion would have been a valid dimension for the film to examine. When asked about the claims of white-washing, director Sarah Gavron told Bust that the well-known suffragettes in the UK were not as diverse than those in the U.S., saying, "I understand the sensitivities around it, but it’s a very, very different story in the UK."
While Mulligan herself isn't the target of the quite vehement social media criticism, it's possible that the backlash could make awards committees more reluctant to bestow prizes on a film with that kind of response. This could especially be true considering the uproar over Selma's snub during the previous Oscar season. That being said, Carey Mulligan is eminently deserving of the award this year. Her performance is subtle yet powerful, and she makes Maud, an invented character within a historical movement, real and alive and believable. Perceived problems in the film aside, Mulligan will in all likelihood be among the nominees at the Oscars next year — and despite the other tough contenders this year, definitely has a shot at taking home the prize.Images: Focus Features (2)