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"First, let's take a look at our main character of the film... MATTIE! Yeah, 'Best Supporting Actress' my ass! She’s the main character, and we all know it! You’re going first!"
The Nostalgia Critic reviewing the two True Grit movies

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 (e.g. 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.

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


Examples

Emmys

  • For ER's first season, all six actors were nominated for Emmys. However, Julianna Margulies was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, despite having just as much screen time and as many storylines as Sherry Stringfield, who was nominated for Lead. Presumably, this was to avoid the two of them canceling each other out, as probably happened to Anthony Edwards and George Clooney (both up for Lead Actor), and Noah Wyle and Eriq LaSalle (both up for Supporting Actor). It paid off, and she won. It wouldn't be until the third season that Margulies was nominated for Lead Actress for the first time, as she had essentially taken over as the central female figure of the series once Stringfield exited (after the eighth episode of Season 3). Incidentally, the two of them were both nominated for Lead Actress that year, losing to Gillian Anderson for The X-Files.
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  • Peter Dinklage has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Primetime Emmy Awards for all seven seasons of Game of Thrones (winning in 2011, 2015, and 2018) despite being the top-billed actor since season two.
  • 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.
  • For Big Little Lies, Shailene Woodley was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress, along with Laura Dern, although her character had more time than Dern's, had more storylines, and was considered a lead character. Dern ended up winning the Emmy. This is also strange considering that Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, who were also billed as leads, were nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress. It may have been done to limit the amount of lead characters in the category so no one could get cancelled out.
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  • Variation: Eric Jacobson was nominated for Outstanding Character Voiceover Performance in 2019 for his performance in Sesame Street: Once Upon a Pickle despite being a puppeteer (for which no such Emmy category exists). Up until that point, the nominations for that category were strictly animation voice actorsnote .

Grammys

  • Jethro Tull won the 1989 Grammy for "Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental". Their competitors included Metallica, Jane's Addiction, Iggy Pop and AC/DC. Tull frontman Ian Anderson, who didn't attend the ceremony, said later that Tull likely won because 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.
  • Taylor Swift's album Red was nominated for the Grammy for "Best Country Album," even though it contained songs like "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," and "I Knew You Were Trouble," which sounded about as Bubblegum Pop as you could get. It may have influenced Swift's choice to officially change her music genre of choice from Country to Pop.

Oscars

  • 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 actresses to compete and so pushed for de Havilland 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.
  • Also in 1939, Greer Garson was nominated for Best Actress for Goodbye, Mr. Chips, even though she only appeared in part of the film. Garson herself was even disappointed that she was playing such a small role.
  • Even though Eva Marie Saint was the leading lady of On the Waterfront, Sam Spiegel listed her as a Supporting Actress in the hopes of getting her a nomination. The ploy worked, and she won the Oscar.
  • Lana Turner was nominated for Best Actress for Peyton Place in 1957 (her only Oscar nomination ever), despite her character being the mother of the main character played by Diane Varsi, who received a Supporting Actress nomination (competing with Hope Lange's nomination for the same film) despite having far more screen-time. This was likely due to Turner's star power at the time, and being the biggest name in the film.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Geena Davis won Best Supporting Actress for The Accidental Tourist despite the fact she was the lead in the film, sharing the most screen time with William Hurt as his romantic interest.
  • Danny Aiello in Do the Right Thing, arguably a co-lead with Spike Lee, was nominated in Best Supporting Actor.
  • 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 Se7en would have been considered a spoiler.
  • Geoffrey Rush won Best Actor for Shine, despite not having that much screen time.
  • Male lead William H. Macy was nominated as Best Supporting Actor for Fargo, probably because he plays the lead antagonist.
  • 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.
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma Kelly in the 2002 film of Chicago won the Oscar and BAFTA awards for Best Supporting Actress in that role. This is 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). Velma is an unambiguously secondary character in the original play, though The Musical made her part much more prominent.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 emphasis). However, Gyllenhaal was put in the Supporting category all through the awards season.
  • Jennifer Hudson, who played Effie White in the 2006 film version of Dreamgirls, won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for that role, which is seen as a lead on stage and had earned Jennifer Holliday a Tony for Best Leading Actress in a Musical. Ironically, Hudson was not mentioned in the promotional material until after the movie was released.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • He received a Supporting Actor nomination for Lion when he is very clearly the sole lead character. However, they probably got away with this because he's only in the second half of the film, with a different actor playing his younger self in the first half.
  • 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".
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In The Master, while Joaquin Phoenix is the clear protagonist, Philip Seymour Hoffman has a dominant presence and is 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.
  • Nebraska featured Bruce Dern and Will Forte as Father/Son deuteragonists, but Dern was the one to receive a Best Actor nomination and while Forte wasn't nominated, he was submitted as a supporting actor - invoked, though, as the producers didn't want to split the votes between the two.
  • 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.
  • At the 2016 Oscars, Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander are leads in their respective movies (Carol and The Danish Girl), but they were nominated in the Supporting Actress category (and Vikander actually won). The fact that their co-leads (Cate Blanchett and Eddie Redmayne respectively) were nominated in the lead category makes it even more noticeable.
  • Viola Davis' Supporting Actress nomination for Fences drew controversy from some who felt she was a co-lead with Denzel Washington (who got a Best Actor nom). She's in almost every scene in the movie, and was one of the main attractions of the film. Some feel she probably would've even won Best Actress over the actual winner (Emma Stone for La La Land) had she been nominated. As expected, Davis swept the award all season, and easily won the Oscar. She also received a Best Actress Tony Award for the same role when she played it on Broadway. However, it's worth noting that Mary Alice received a "Featured Actress" Award (the Tony equivalent of Supporting Actress) for playing Rose in the original Broadway production.
  • The Favourite is a film about three women who could all be considered leads. When awards season came around, it was decided to submit Olivia Colman in the Lead Actress categories while Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone had to settle for Supporting Actress. All three received Oscar nominations in those respective categories, despite having basically the same amount of screen-time. Colman likely got priority because she played Queen Anne, whose life is ultimately the main subject and setting of the story. This ended up working out as while Wiesz and Stone both lost Supporting Actress to Regina King, Colman pulled off an upset victory over the heavily favored Glenn Close for the Oscar.
  • Green Book portrays the relationship between Dr. Don Shirley and his driver Frank "Tony Lip" Vallelonga as they travel through the 1960s Deep South. Despite sharing similar screen time, Viggo Mortensen was nominated for Best Actor at the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards, while Mahershala Ali was nominated for (and ultimately won) the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
  • Writing example: if it's based on a previous work, the Academy only considers it for Adapted Screenplay. Sequels are almost always considered adapted because they're based on existing characters (Toy Story 3), or a script the writer-director previously filmed as a short (Whiplash).

Tonys

  • Robert Alda and Isabel Bigley each won a Tony award for playing Sky Masterson and Sarah Brown in the original production of Guys and Dolls. Despite Sky and Sarah being a couple in the show, being billed after Vivian Blaine (Miss Adelaide) put Isabel Bigley in the "Best Featured Actress" category, whereas Robert Alda was "Best Actor."
  • Similarly, Yul Brynner won Best Featured Actor for his role in The King and I, despite playing the titular King, because he was billed below Gertrude Lawrence. Brynner received top billing after Lawrence's death early in the run, and he subsequently won an Oscar as Best Actor for the film version.
  • From 2013-14, a show ran on Broadway called Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, about the last performance that Billie Holiday 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 McDonald, 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.

Other Awards Shows

  • 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 wellnote ) - since Britton and Panettiere play the show's main characters, this was clearly done to keep from cancelling each other out.
  • In a decision that left many people scratching their heads, The Martian won the 2015 Golden Globe in the category "Best Motion Picture: Musical or Comedy." (As anyone who has seen the film knows, it has light-hearted moments but overall remains a serious adventure drama, and contains much disco but no diagetic singing.)
    • This happened again in 2017 when Get Out (a horror film dealing with racism, albeit one quite heavy on the Black Comedy) was nominated in the same category.
  • 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)...
  • At the 2015 Kids' Choice Awards, Jessie J was nominated for Favorite New Artist...despite the fact that she had two massive worldwide hits dating back to 2011, which wasn't much of a problem...except that it robbed Sam Smith of a nomination for the category; Smith's nomination in the Favorite Male Singer category wasn't able to wash the hypocritical taint of the awards out — especially with that nomination leading to the shocking snub of Ed Sheeran, who was viewed as an early favorite to win the category.
  • Keisha Castle-Hughes, the lead in Whale Rider, was nominated in the SAG Awards for Best Supporting Actress.
  • Although he ultimately failed to receive an Oscar nomination, Daniel Brühl'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.
  • Emily Blunt is a lead character in A Quiet Place, yet she won the SAG Award for Best Supporting Actress. She was only submitted in that category so as not split noms\votes with Blunt's other performance, Mary Poppins Returns (which was up for Best Actress). The entire cast of A Quiet Place was actually submitted in the supporting categories during awards season because the film had more of an ensemble than any clear lead.
  • Sweden recently updated their banknotes with new motifs, and the theme that was chosen was "Swedish Artists of the 20th Century". The artists chosen were children's author Astrid Lindgren, songwriter Evert Taub, actress Greta Garbo, director Ingmar Bergman, opera singer Birgit Nilsson and diplomat, politician, General-Secretary of the UN and all-around national hero Dag Hammaskjöld. He was given the spot since a collection of his poetry was found and posthumously published, thus technically making him an author.
  • The TV Week Logie Awards are pretty bad about this when it comes to the New Talent Awards, frequently shortlisting established celebrities (e.g., comedians, singers or radio announcers) who've only recently started regularly appearing in Australian television, or established TV actors who've worked overseas in previous years. There's little indication that the magazine's readers take any of this into consideration when reading the shortlists, so plenty of these people will end up being nominated and then winning. A few standout examples:
    • Lisa Chappell winning for McLeod's Daughters in 2002, despite having been acting in New Zealand since 1987.
    • Carrie Bickmore winning for The 7pm Project in 2010, despite having appeared on Rove Live regularly from 2006-2009 and having been a newsreader on radio for years before that.
    • Firass Dirani winning for Underbelly: The Golden Mile in 2011, despite previously starring in Power Rangers Mystic Force. Similarly, the previous year Anna Hutchison had been shortlisted for Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities despite her role in Power Rangers Jungle Fury.
    • Joel Madden winning for The Voice Australia in 2013, despite being the lead singer of Good Charlotte since 1996.
    • While she didn't win, Kate Bell was nominated in 2010 for a guest spot on Home and Away despite having had regular roles in Blue Water High, another Australian series, in 2005 and 2008. This one was probably a Consolation Award.
  • The Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation was split into "Short Form" and "Long Form" in 2003, with the cut-off point being 90 minutes, but several Doctor Who two-parters have been nominated in the Short Form category despite their combined lengths being over 90 minutes.
  • The Golden Raspberry Award for Remake or Sequel (since appended with Prequel and Rip-Off), as noted by a recap series on the "award", often play very loose with what that means (many are Live-Action Adaptation and The Film of the Series). The very first winner was Wyatt Earp, which at most was a story that had been told before. The second was The Scarlet Letter, which is an adaptation of a book, not a remake. And only a few noms had Rule of Funny as an excuse (Showgirls being claimed as a remake of both All About Eve and The Lonely Lady).
  • The short-lived American Anime Awards notoriously nominated Johnny Yong Bosch for Best Actor in a Comedy for his work in AKIRA, despite that the film is most definitely not a comedy. Confusedly, he was also nominated in the other "Best Actor" category for his work on Akira, Bleach, and Eureka Seven.


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