And The Oscar Goes To ... ?

Last year, when we conducted research for our global study, “Truth About Moms,” we asked our respondents to imagine that they were at the Oscars. Except, instead of film nominations, we suggested an event where mothers nominate other mothers for awards. We then provided them with a list of 18 potential awards for which they were eligible.

More than 7,000 moms from Brazil to Japan responded and, with the exception of our Mexican and Chinese respondents, the preferred award in all markets was “Most Supportive Mom.” The rate of preference was highest in the UK, where 1 in 3 moms set their eyes on this prize, with 1 in 5 moms doing so in the U.S., India, and Italy -- a rate that looks to be consistent in Hungary and Serbia, where we are currently completing a second-round of research. 

These findings prompted me to look into what kind of moms are receiving awards from the film industry. In a review of this year’s BAFTAs, Golden Globes, and Academy Awards category for Best Actress in a Leading Role, at least one “mom” has been nominated: Naomi Watt’s portrayal of Marie Bennett in “The Impossible” has garnered nominations for each of these prestigious awards. 

The complexity of Watt’s character does not fit neatly into any of our mom award categories. However, she does heroically fulfill what respondents selected as the most apt description of a good mother: “She’s always there when her children need her” which, in this case, was nothing short of miraculous. 

The same can’t be said for the majority of moms portrayed since the first Best Actress Oscar was awarded to Janet Gaynor in 1929 (who did not portray a mother in any of the three films for which she was awarded). In fact, the first actor to receive an award for the role of a mother was Marie Dressler for her title role in “Min & Bill” (1931). As caregiver for an abandoned girl coming of age, Min was willing to do whatever it took to provide her a good life, even if it meant not being part of the girl’s life. 

Of the 85 Best Actress awards in Oscar history, 30 have gone to actors portraying moms. These moms range from the demonstrably unfit (e.g., Bette Davis’ Eve) to the struggling lone provider (e.g., Sally Field’s Edna Spalding) to the protectress (e.g., Kate Hepburne’s Queen Eleanor) to the aging matriarch (e.g., Jessica Tandy’s Miss Daisy). 

Arguably, only a handful of award-winning moms would qualify for a “Most Supportive Mom” award. Nominees might include Sandra Bullock’s Leigh Anne Tuohy in “The Blind Side,” Helen Hunt’s Carol Connelly in “As Good As It Gets,” and Shirley MacLaine’s Aurora Greenway in “Terms of Endearment.” Indeed, the accomplishments of their characters verge on “supermom” status. 

However, “supermoms” are infrequent award winners in Hollywood; moms in our study were also prepared to dismiss the supermom, with nearly 86% of our respondents either rejecting or not persuaded by this myth of motherhood. In at least this regard, brands are right to follow Hollywood’s example. 

More commonly, “the Academy” rewards actors who capture the struggles, challenges, and even failures of motherhood, as was the case with Halle Berry’s portrayal of abusive Leticia Musgrove in “Monster’s Ball.” Or, consider the tragic figure of Martha portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” 

It is unlikely that this year’s Oscar will go to Watts, but there is a lesson for brands in her character. As a counterpoint to what is at best a cathartic device and at worst a stereotypical misrepresentation, Watts’ “mom” is smart, mercurial, determined, and fragile. In this, she stands for moms and their everyday successes, even before the tsunami splits her family apart.

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