2017 Calvin Awards: Best Supporting Actress
By David Mumpower
February 23, 2017
Historically, the category of Best Supporting Actress has caused chaos for BOP’s staff. We oftentimes disagree about whether a role is primary or secondary in nature, and Hollywood has an unfortunate tendency to underwrite women’s parts, magnifying the issue. This past year was a pleasant change in this regard.
A clear division existed in the lead acting category as opposed to complementary work, and that’s a credit to the industry we take to task when they’re lazy. Hollywood was better, and they deserve acknowledgement for (finally) showing some improvement. For that reason, our voters had an easier time choosing the best of the best in the female acting categories, although the results were still extremely close due to four exceptional performances this year. Any of them could have won the category and stood as a fitting champion.
The most thankless of roles on our list is also our favorite for the year. BOP’s loved Naomie Harris going all the way back to 28 Days Later, and we’ve celebrated several of her performances since then. She’d never won prior to this year, though. That changed when she took on the role of Paula in Moonlight. Frankly, she’s a difficult character to like.
When we first meet Paula, she’s a drug addict who cares more about her next high than the health and safety of her son, Chiron. She calls him Little, presumably due to his combination of size and sweetness. The mother already knows that her son is gay, and she seems to think less of a small child for something so trivial and completely beyond his control. Her actions are so deplorable that even her drug dealer finds her loathsome.
Since the story of Moonlight spans roughly 20 years, Paula does change or at least acts like she does. Her bond with her son is long since broken, however, assuming that it ever truly existed in the first place. What’s impressive about Harris in this role is how fearless she is. Many thespians would feel the need to add some semblance of heart to Paula. Harris goes the other way entirely, relishing in her horrible parenting choices and callous inhumanity. She makes her character utterly lacking in empathy, and that causes the audience to feel all the more protective of Chiron, the most important character in Moonlight. It’s a refreshingly ignoble take on parenting and the breathing definition of supportive acting. While the results were close, our staff gives the nod to Harris as the Best Supporting Actress of the year.
Finishing in a very close second, about half a ballot behind the winner, is Octavia Spencer for her work in Hidden Figures. BOP has already established that we’re huge fans of Spencer’s comfort food style of acting, as she won this category five years ago for her work in The Help. Whereas she played a generally helpful but infrequently vindictive character in her most famous role to date, Spencer elevates Hidden Figures with a more measured performance.