By naming Glenn Close and Lady Gaga as joint winners in the Best Actress category, the Critics’ Choice Awards turned into a celebration of sisterhood.
If awards season has historically taught us anything at all, it’s that there is no prize for second place.
As a result, the garrulous, champagne-fuelled weeks of awards ceremonies – beginning in earnest with the Golden Globes in early January, and ending with the Oscars at the end of February – can feel exhausting. The race to the top is a tiring one, littered with months of increasingly antagonistic speculation over which film was the fairest of them all. And it only gets worse once the spotlight is shone on each individual acting category – especially for women.
This year, the conversation has been dominated by the perceived competition between Glenn Close and Lady Gaga, duking it out for the Best Actress prize at both the Golden Globes, the Critics’ Choice Awards, next week’s Screen Actor’s Guild Awards and, if all goes according to plan, next month’s Oscars. Close, a six-time Oscar nominee and film legend, turned in a career-best performance in the 2018 adaptation of Meg Wolitzer’s The Wife, while Gaga defied the odds with her debut starring role in Bradley Cooper’s swoony remake of A Star is Born.
Hollywood has always loved an epic intergenerational showdown between women: just look at classic Fifties film All About Eve, or cheesy 2014 rom-com The Other Woman. So it was fairly predictable that a rivalry would be whipped up between Close and Gaga. When Close won the Golden Globe on 6 January, headlines crowed about how she had “upset” and “beaten” Gaga. This weekend, a DJ in a New York club remixed Lady Gaga’s hit single Just Dance to replace the titular lyrics with Gary Oldman announcing “and the Golden Globe goes to… Glenn Close!”
And a widely circulated meme, featuring an image of Close watching Gaga speak during a roundtable interview with The Hollywood Reporter, seemed to say it all. Ladies: to your corners. Let the showdown begin.
Never mind that neither Close nor Gaga has ever expressed any element of competition between them. In fact, they routinely praise one another’s performances, with Gaga telling Close in an interview: “Your character [in The Wife], the importance of her voice is so powerful.” Brilliantly, Close and Gaga’s mothers are even friends who lunch together regularly in New York.
The lack of any real rivalry between the two was reinforced at this year’s Critics’ Choice Awards, which awarded the Best Actress prize in a tie to both Close and Gaga. It was the second draw of the night, with Amy Adams and Patricia Arquette sharing the award for Best Actress in a limited series. All four women couldn’t have been happier to see the work of so many talented actresses recognised in one space.
Just look at what happened when Willem Dafoe announced the night’s second tie. As he read out Gaga’s name as the second Best Actress winner, Close – already on stage and clutching her award – threw her arms into the air, shrieking with delight. Gaga burst into tears and rushed forward to embrace her peer, crying: “Glenn, get over here!”
Taking the microphone, Close said she was “thrilled it’s a tie”.
“I was thinking that, you know, the world kind of pits us against each other in this profession,” she continued. “I know that from all the women in this category, and I think I can speak for all the women in this room, we celebrate each other. We are proud to be in this room together.”
Yes, awards ceremonies are literal competitions. They are in the business of pitting people - and films, and TV series, and records - against each other. But the media’s obsession with manufacturing drama among groups of female nominees has a damaging, dark subtext. It implies that women can’t be happy for other women. It suggests that bitchy competitiveness is a core component of being a woman at work.
You can see this kind of narrative in the way Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon were said to be locked in a “feud” after scoring nominations against each other at the Emmy Awards last year for their roles in Big Little Lies, despite the fact that they are producing partners and co-creators on that show who have never had anything but kind words to say about each other. It happened back in 1999 with Gwyneth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett, who were accused of feuding when their performances in Shakespeare in Love and Elizabeth were both nominated for multiple awards.
This is something that only happens to female acting nominees. There are no memes featuring Bradley Cooper and his fellow Best Actor hopefuls Rami Malek or Christian Bale. Nobody is gossiping about supposed bad blood between Mahershala Ali and Timothée Chalamet.
And it doesn’t matter how many times an actress accepts an award and thanks her fellow nominees, or talks about the sisterhood, or gives a speech discussing the power of women helping women. It doesn’t matter how many images of actresses celebrating other actresses go viral. A narrative persists: women want success for ourselves, and ourselves only. We don’t want to share with other women.
But the Critics’ Choice Awards refused to play the game. By giving their top prize to both Close and Gaga, they turned the insidious women-vs-women narrative on its head.
Awards ceremonies are often depicted as desperate races to the finish line. But last night was instead a celebration of sisterhood – and that’s something we should all applaud.