The 89th Academy Awards air this Sunday, February 26th, on ABC. The ceremony will be hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, which seems like a nepotistic, tone-deaf party foul considering that the last three hosts were Chris Rock, Neil Patrick Harris and Ellen Degeneres, but despite that, this year, the Oscars are surprisingly worth caring about. That’s not just because the Academy is finally honoring a historic mix of nonwhite filmmakers after two years of #OscarsSoWhite, but also because two nominated actresses are supremely worthy of the attention they’re receiving; specifically, Viola Davis and Emma Stone. Both performers have been nominated before, but we’re demanding that this be their year. Here’s why.
The Oscars are, somewhat infamously, a game. Studios throw a lot of money behind their favorite A-listers, parading them around industry parties and press junkets until we get confused about what awards they’ve already won. This is often why actors who deliver undoubtedly hypnotizing performances in the year’s best films leave audiences rolling their eyes come the Oscars, which are handed out months after the first award show kicks off.
But for a moment let’s put aside that award-season exhaustion—and our overall exhaustion with the state of the world—to celebrate Emma Stone. Because Emma Stone is a singular example of a great Hollywood leading lady—someone who can play the celebrity horse-and-pony show and still walk away victorious. It’s easy to make everyone like you when you’re overachieving and cute like Stone is, but it’s hard to keep it that way. (Read: Jennifer Lawrence.) Stone can date high-profile costars, give charming late-night appearances and use the paparazzi to promote charities without oversaturating the press. She’s young, crazy likeable and a feminist that’s made the most of each role—even the questionable ones. She is not just well-spoken and unapologetic, but she’s a damn fine actress, even in Superbad.
Does La La Land need more awards? No. But Emma Stone does. Talented and successful without succumbing to overexposure, Stone winning Best Actress in La La Land is an unnecessary, flashy, unrelatable, meaningless gesture we can get behind. (To be fair, if her gifted and cool fellow nominee Ruth Negga picks up a statue for Loving, we wouldn’t be mad about it.) While she lost Best Supporting Actress to Patricia Arquette in 2015, we here at Playboy are ready to fangirl all over Stone when she nabs her Oscar this weekend.
Now, do we even need to make the case for Viola Davis? Who else in recent memory has anchored a major TV show (How to Get Away With Murder) and simultaneously killed it on the silver screen? If they exist, were they also a woman of color over age 50? Didn’t think so. Viola Davis graduated from Juilliard in 1993 but didn’t receive her first Oscar nomination until 2008. That’s because she was too busy winning Tony nominations. (She won in 2001 and 2010.) She also became the first black actress to win a Primetime Emmy Award for Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 2015.
Davis is tenacious, fearless and pushes back relentlessly against Hollywood’s glaring controversies with race and age. She’s an inspiration on- and off-camera. Hell, Davis did Suicide Squad and we’re not even mad about it. This isn’t a knock against any of the incredible performers she’s up against in the Best Supporting Actress category, of course, because a narrative that pits successful women against one another exhausts us as much as Kimmel’s Matt Damon shtick. (You’re probably exhausted by it too.) It’s just time that this immensely talented human—and yes, we’ll say it, icon—finally wins the Academy Award she’s long deserved. A Best Supporting Actress win for Fences would also put Davis three-quarters of the way to an EGOT. Can you imagine her reading a book of poetry by Maya Angelou? Or her own memoir? We can already see a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album in her hands.
The Academy Awards will always be stunningly problematic. Notably, it seems that every year this organization, which heaps tons of nominations upon films depicting sexual assault while offering real-life victims a major platform to speak out against sexual violence, honors alleged perpetrators of those very crimes in the same breath, especially in categories like Best Director and Best Actor. For every nominee we urge on, there are always a few more we’re less psyched about. This year, a win for Davis could ease the controversy surrounding another nominee.
But that’s why this year matters—we get to care again. Forget the fact that the organizers tapped a milquetoast white guy named Jimmy to emcee. Appreciate the ceremony for why it still matters. Celebrate the fact that seven of 20 acting nominees aren’t white people because Hollywood finally stepped up its game. Tune in to watch the woman who delivered this speech win her first Oscar at 51 years old. Root for the hard-working, intelligent, dynamic actress who managed to break out of a stoner comedy, land in a Marvel franchise, act opposite Batman, geek out over the Spice Girls and maintain our respect for a decade. Like their starring vehicles, Stone and Davis’s paths to stardom are wildly different—and sure, one might be more interesting than the other—but they’re two HBICs. And that’s who we need to celebrate in the world right now.