ByTom Cox, writer at
Staff writer for Moviepilot. Tweet me @thomascox500
Tom Cox

Leo won! But how will the eight-and-a half-pounds of Oscar metal on his mantlepiece affect his career? Oscars are the most prestigious award an actor can receive. This year's winners DiCaprio and Brie Larson will expect a career-boost equal to the astronomical hype surrounding the ceremony, and that their spouses will support them through the tumult.

Unfortunately this is not always the case.

The curse of the gold Oscar

Cursed: Cuba Gooding Jr
Cursed: Cuba Gooding Jr

There may be a specter haunting the gilded wings of the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, hungrily watching as the awards are presented. The 'Oscar curse' is a jinx that gets whispered in fearful tones around this time of year as careers of the winners embark on their new era with a status as an 'Academy Award-winner'. The curse of post-Oscar career failure has been around almost a century: the first actor to win more than one Oscar, Luise Rainer, blamed her career's free-fall in the late '30s on her prizes.

One of the most prominent to fall fowl was Cuba Gooding Jr after introducing the immortal phrase "show me the money" to the world in Jerry MacGuire in 1996. He won Best Supporting Actor for his performance alongside Tom Cruise, but his career went downhill from there. After a string of critically slated flicks like Chill Factor, Boat Trip and Daddy Day Camp he appeared in some direct-to-DVD movies.

From an Oscar to a Razzie: Halle Berry
From an Oscar to a Razzie: Halle Berry

Halle Berry was another lauded performer onto whom the curse latched. She was the first (and so far the only) African-American to win Best Actress for Monster's Ball in 2002.

But she told The Guardian last year:

People win Oscars, and then it seems like they fall off the planet. And that’s partly because a huge expectation walks in the room and sits right down on top of your head.
The moment I won the Oscar, I felt the teardown the very next day. I thought, ‘If I’m going down, I’m going down taking chances and daring to risk.’

Her fortunes didn't last - since her win she went from hero to zero; with Halle winning a gold Berry just three years later at The Razzies for Worst Actress in Catwoman. It should be noted she won in style, collecting her spray-painted fruit award in person in Los Angeles with a fantastic mock-tearful speech.

Doomed: Mo'Nique
Doomed: Mo'Nique

In more recent years, Mo'Nique received explicit notice of her new downgraded status soon after scoring Best Supporting Actress in Precious in 2010. In an interview with Hollywood Reporter last year she said:

I got a phone call from Lee Daniels maybe six or seven months ago. He said to me, 'Mo'Nique, you've been blackballed.'
I said, 'I've been blackballed? Why have I been blackballed?'
He said, 'Because you didn't play the game.'

This cryptic message from director and producer Daniels wasn't explained further. "Blackballed" refers to secret ballot designed to "reject (a candidate applying to become a member of a private club)". Apparently this was because she didn't campaign hard enough for her role. Needless to say, Mo'Nique has only featured in five roles since her win.

A study on this topic by the National University of Singapore found no evidence to support the theory of professional ramifications for winners. But then the curse doesn't affect everyone, and a study based on statistics wouldn't discern the subtle psychological and industry-related shifts. Other notable victims include Adrien Brody, Roberto Benigni and Adrien Brody.

However, the study of over 1,000 roles did find that Best Actress winners were far more likely than Oscar-less actresses to end their relationships with their partners.

Is an Oscar the ultimate turn-off?

On top of the possible career tumble, there is a belief that the award can knell a death toll for some women's relationships. Celebuzz counts 40 women who have suffered a break-up from an apparently secure relationship because of the Oscar since 1945.

Another study by the University of Toronto concluded that Best Actress winners have a 63% chance of a divorce occurring sooner than non-winners. On the male end, Best Actor winners experienced no increase in divorce rate.

Among the ranks of the lovelorn winners of Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress are Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Winslet, Sandra Bullock, Reese Witherspoon and Julia Roberts. "But celebrities go through relationships faster than I go through shoes!" I hear you cry. While it should not be assumed all are because of the Oscar, 40 is a staggering number and the gender division is clear.

An Oscar inevitably triggers some shift in career, in income, and in identity. This readjustment impacts a winner's relationship with his or her nearest. When a woman has a boost of Oscar power, this can reverse the traditional gender position: with the men feeling confused and emasculated. While the traditional power position of men above women is outrageously sexist, men cannot easily change their inbuilt expectations.

The tension has clear parallels with that in regular people's lives in which a woman wins the bread while the man minds the home and children. A study by Cornell discovered men who earned less than their partner were more likely to be unfaithful because they felt like failures. Sometimes the men cannot deal with their partner's success, leading to rising tension and a premature end to the relationship.

Money money money

A 2010 thesis by a student from Colgate University in New York found that while the incomes of average males almost double, the cash surge in women is far less. While men receive about $3.9 million extra, women get around half a million: an increase of around seven times less.

While there are not thousands of Oscar-winners - enough for solid statistics - this shows a clear distinction. Women's salaries in Hollywood are already known to be far less than men's: with the top five males collectively making almost $80 million more than the five highest-earning women's total of $106 million in 2014. The curse seems to hinder women in earnings and relationships far more than it does men.

It should be noted that those affected by the curse, professional or romantic, tend to be younger. Of the winners this year, Leo is probably safe at 41, though Brie Larson at a tender 26 should watch out.

The curse, whether in career or relationship, underlines how seismic the changes post-award can be. Some do not fare well from the newfound glory. Women may unfortunately be far worse off than men on average as a result of their Oscar win. Oscar-winners are humans with as complex relationships as everyone else, and the extra eight-and-a-half pounds of the gold statuette may tip the scales over.

Do you believe in the Oscar curse?

Sources: Pubs OnLine, Cinema Blend, CNN, Independent, Forbes


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