Award Category Fraud

Wherein the significance of a person's role (typically in a feature film) is downgraded. This is typically done when an actor or actress has been met with praise for their role, but have some industry shortcoming (ie. acting newcomer, young, first-time nominee, lots of competition in one category, etc.) that would prevent them from receiving awards. So, in order to increase their chances at winning gold, they are entered into the awards races in (what are for some reason seen as) lesser categories in the supporting roles. It can also be done so a work can win more awards by splitting the leads into separate categories. In the case of the Oscars, the Academy has a rule against the same actor being nominated twice in the same category for two different works; if someone appeared in two well-received films in the same year, they will almost invariably be nominated once for Best Leading Actor/Actress and once for Best Supporting.

May be due to a character being a Supporting Protagonist. Compare Billing Displacement and Protagonist Title Fallacy. Related to Oscar Bait.


Examples:

  • Hailee Steinfeld's role as Mattie Ross in The Coen Brothers' adaptation of True Grit, where despite being the main character (aside from Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn), and being in virtually every scene in the film, and being praised up and down for her work, was demoted by almost every single film awards association to "Best Supporting Actress".
  • Jennifer Hudson as Effie White in Dreamgirls (the role is seen as a lead on stage and had earned Jennifer Holliday a Tony for Best Leading Actress in a Musical) (though the she was not mentioned in the promotional material until after the movie was released)
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma Kelly in Chicago (a similar situation to Dreamgirls where the role is seen as a lead on stage and previously earned an actress a Leading Tony [in this case Bebe Neuwirth in the popular revival]).
  • Casey Affleck plays the main character of Robert Ford in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford but was nominated mainly as the supporting role.
  • Djimon Hounsou in Blood Diamond, nominated for Best Supporting Actor (while Leonardo DiCaprio was nominated as Lead), despite the fact that the entire story revolves around his quest to rescue his son.
  • Jeff Bridges, generally considered the lead as the President in The Contender, especially since many expected Gary Oldman's villainous Senator to be nominated as Best Supporting Actor.
  • Danny Aiello in Do the Right Thing, arguably a co-lead with Spike Lee, was nominated in Best Supporting Actor.
  • Male lead William H. Macy was nominated as Best Supporting Actor for Fargo, probably because he plays the lead antagonist.
  • Haing S. Ngor won Best Supporting Actor for The Killing Fields, despite the fact that a large portion of the movie follows him and not Best Actor-nominated Sam Waterston.
  • Geoffrey Rush won Best Actor for Shine, despite not having that much screen time.
  • Anthony Hopkins set the record for the second shortest performance to win a Lead Actor Oscar when he won for his performance as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. As neither the protagonist nor the antagonist, the part is generally considered to be a supporting role.
  • Kevin Spacey won Best Supporting Actor for The Usual Suspects, where he played the clear lead. Some suspected this was because nominating him for his performance that same year in Seven would have been considered a spoiler.
  • Enforced for the nominations for Gone with the Wind. Both Olivia de Havilland and Vivien Leigh were possible nominees for Best Actress, but the studio didn't want their two actress to compete and so pushed for deHavilland to be nominated for Best Supporting Actress. This, however, came to naught when Hattie McDaniel instead won for her role, also from Gone With The Wind.
  • Mary Badham was nominated for a Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as "Scout" Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, despite being the clear main character of the film. Gregory Peck as her father won for Best Actor.
  • Marlon Brando won Best Actor for playing Vito Corleone in The Godfather, even though the lead character is Michael, played by Al Pacino, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Pacino refused to attend the ceremony because of this.
  • Jennifer Connelly won Best Supporting Actress for A Beautiful Mind - but the Screen Actors Guild wasn't that fooled and nominated her for Best Actress instead.
  • Cate Blanchett's Supporting Actress nomination for Notes on a Scandal. This came even though some believed her to be just as vital to the story as Judi Dench's character.
  • Jamie Foxx was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Collateral because he was already up for Best Actor in Ray, which he ended up winning.
  • Jethro Tull won the 1989 Grammy for "Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental". Their competitors included Metallica and Faith No More. Tull frontman Ian Anderson, who didn't attend the ceremony, said later that Tull likely won due to the fact that they'd never won a Grammy before despite being around and well-regarded for so long, and that there was "no way I could have accepted it under those circumstances." Controversy over this award led to the separation of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal into two separate categories.
  • Bérénice Bejo was nominated for Best Supporting Actress by multiple awards shows for The Artist, despite her being the clear female lead. Inverted, however, at the BAFTA and César Awards, which both nominated her in the Best Actress field.
  • In The Master, while Joaquin Phoenix is the clear protagonist, Philip Seymour Hoffman has a dominant presence and the titular character, and a case could be argued that they were actually co-leads, given how the film's central conflict comes from the dynamics of their relationship and how there are several scenes where the viewer sees things from Hoffman's perspective. However, to get both actors nominated, Hoffman was put in the Supporting Actor category.
  • Some argued that Christoph Waltz's performance in Django Unchained was very much a co-lead with Jamie Foxx's. While Waltz's character is relegated to the background in a number of scenes and is largely absent from the climax, his character has a proactive presence initially and a lot of the first half of the film focuses on his attempts to build Django up as a bounty hunter. A very arguable case, but Waltz was briefly campaigned as a co-lead in the awards season (including at SAG) when Harvey Weinstein thought he could get Leonardo DiCaprio a Supporting Actor nomination. After Leo's chances started to fade and Waltz won a few critics prizes, the latter was put back in the Supporting category and won the Oscar.
  • Brokeback Mountain gives a lot of screentime to both Heath Ledger's and Jake Gyllenhaal's characters, as the film covers their romance and how their lives drift off in parallel fashion during their years apart. As such, one could argue that the two characters are equally important to the story as protagonists (with Ledger's performance perhaps getting just a bit more of emphasis). However, Gyllenhaal was put in the Supporting category all through the awards season.
  • Timothy Hutton is the clear protagonist of Ordinary People, with his character's suicide attempt setting off the film's plot and his character development serving as its emotional crux. Because he was a young unknown, however, he was relegated to Supporting Actor at the Oscars and won (making him the youngest winner in the Academy's history). This is despite Mary Tyler Moore earning a Best Actress nomination as his mother and Donald Sutherland getting a Best Actor nomination at the Golden Globes as his father. Both are important to the plot, but aren't given quite as much focus as Hutton's character. If anything, all of the family members should have been campaigned in Lead, leaving the Supporting category to Judd Hirsch (who was also against Hutton).
  • Although he didn't receive an Oscar nomination, Dev Patel was notably nominated for Best Supporting Actor by the SAG awards for his work in Slumdog Millionaire, even though he was clearly considered to be the film's primary character. However, he was nominated for Best Actor by the BAFTAs.
  • Rosanna Arquette won a Best Supporting Actress BAFTA for Desperately Seeking Susan, even though she (as opposed to Madonna) plays the main character and has top billing.
  • At the Golden Globes in 2013, Connie Britton was nominated for Best Actress In A TV Drama for Nashville while Hayden Panettiere received a Best Supporting Actress nomination (as she would the following year as well) - since Britton and Panettiere play the show's main characters, this was clearly done to keep from cancelling each other out.
  • Although he ultimately failed to receive an Oscar nomination, Daniel Bruhl's performance in Rush received several precursor nominations in the Best Supporting Actor category. This is despite the fact that Bruhl's character, Niki Lauda, received just as much focus in the film as Chris Hemsworth's James Hunt, with the film clearly framed to show them as equal rivals.
    • Lauda even serves as the film's narrator which means that if one has to be considered lead and one supporting the lead character is Brühl's while Hemsworth plays the supporting.
  • The film adaptation of August: Osage County was criticized by some for an egregious case of this, with Meryl Streep being pushed in the Lead category and Julia Roberts for Supporting, despite the fact that the two characters had previously competed against each other in Lead at the Tonys when it was a play on Broadway.
  • The TV Week Logie Awards are pretty bad about this when it comes to the New Talent Awards, frequently shortlisting established celebrities who've only recently started regularly appearing in Australian television (such as comedians or singers), or young actors who've established themselves in overseas roles in previous years (Firass Dirani and Anna Hutchison were both nominated for roles in Underbelly). And then sometimes they shortlist actors to make up for missing them earlier (Kate Bell, nominated for a guest role on Home and Away despite having previously been a regular for two full seasons of Blue Water High). The especially frustrating part is that the magazine's readers tend to not notice, and so the actors end up being nominated or even winning.
  • Not even the MTV Movie Awards are immune from this. The 2015 nominees for Best Shirtless Performance are all guys, except for Kate Upton in The Other Woman 2014 as a sop to equality (or to people who like girls). But Kate doesn't have a Shirtless Scene in the movie (it's not called Best Wearing A Bathing Suit Performance, people)...

Inversions
  • Meryl Streep was nominated for Best Actress for The Devil Wears Prada, while the clear lead of the movie, played by Anne Hathaway, was given no recognition at all.
  • Nicole Kidman won Best Actress for The Hours, an ensemble piece with no clear lead.
    • On the other end of the spectrum, while Kidman was campaigned as a co-lead with Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore was relegated to the Supporting Actress category because she could not compete against her other nominated leading performance in Far From Heaven.
  • An odd case: Kate Winslet was given many controversial precursor Best Supporting Actress awards for The Reader, and was expected to continue this at the Oscars, but she was instead nominated for Lead Actress, snubbing her own equally-acclaimed performance in Revolutionary Road
  • Keisha Castle-Hughes was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her clear lead role in Whale Rider at the Screen Actors Guild awards, but was later nominated in Best Actress at the Oscars.
  • Country Music singer Justin Moore received a Best New Artist award at the 2014 Academy of Country Music awards despite having started his career in 2008. And it's not as if he had spent most of the past few years completely under the radar; he had a #1 hit as early as 2009.

Other Examples
  • True Detective was pushed, and nominated, in Best Drama Series at the Emmys rather than Best Miniseries, in spite of the fact that similarly constructed Seasonal Anthologies such as American Horror Story and Fargo were nominated as miniseries. Presumably, this was done so HBO wouldn't have to compete with itself with the TV movie The Normal Heart. Enough flak came out of this that the Emmys restructured their rules by clearly defining what constituted anthology or limited series and both are now ineligible for the Drama category.
  • A variation: From 2013-14, a show ran on Broadway called Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, about the last performance that Billie Holliday ever gave. Although it had lots of music (since it was about a concert), it was designated as a play rather than a musical, netting its star, Audra Mc Donald, a Tony for Best Lead Actress in a Play (her record-breaking seventh acting Tony). This was met with some criticism, with some invoking this trope.