Your Oscar is no big deal: Cynthia Heimel explains why Americans don't give a damn about Emma Thompson

Related Topics
I HATE to have to tell everybody in England this but, with very few exceptions, nobody in America cares whether Emma Thompson lives or dies.

'Wasn't she the one in Knots Landing?' asked a costumier. 'No, wait, that was Emma Samms, wasn't it?'

'Who?' asked the production assistant, 'Nope, never heard of her. Howards End? Isn't that a chick movie?'

'Isn't she Kenneth whatsisname's wife?' asked an Oscar-nominated movie actress.

Yes, I know that not only was Thompson also nominated for an Oscar, but that tomorrow night she'll probably win. This means nothing. Virtually no one in America has seen Howards End. It has had no impact on the consciousness of the country. It just happens to be English, and so we figure it must be very tasteful. Just like Masterpiece Theatre, which we all pretend to watch.

We Americans just dote on the English. We don't take them seriously or anything, but we think they're so damned classy with their civilised ways and quaint accents. When your basic, cigar-chomping Neanderthal of a movie producer wants to add a bit of tone to a dinner party or the cast of his film, he pops in someone English. They make great accessories.

The members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are predominantly these same Neanderthals. Old, male, stupid and greedy, they devote their lives to making Police Academy V and then, to prove what classy guys they are, they vote for Gandhi. Or for Jeremy Irons, Maggie Smith, Emma Thompson.

English actors win academy awards, but hardly ever make it into American consciousness. Unless they're sexy. Michael Caine springs to mind. Julie Christie. Daniel Day Lewis was given a chance to be sexy when they put him in The Last of the Mohicans, where his main job was to gallop around on a mighty steed with his shirt hanging off. Pity only men went to see him.

Over here, Emma Thompson is not sexy. I know you call her 'the thinking man's crumpet' (you sexist pigs), but we don't think and we've never heard of crumpets. The stakes for sexy are very high if you're an actress these days. Basically you have to be naked and blonde. You have to be Sharon Stone or Madonna.

Or a man. The movie from the across the Atlantic that has captured the imagination of America is The Crying Game. Neil Jordan's IRA love story, starring Jaye Davidson, which has a mystery at its heart, resolved by a most evocative twist. Everybody's talking about it. It's mentioned on every television talk show, sitcom writers are putting jokes about it in their scripts. It's the first topic of conversation at parties and at the supermarket.

'I knew the minute I saw that Adam's apple.'

'Hey, that's nothing, I knew when I saw the photograph.'

'Poor John, he didn't even guess until he saw the actual penis.'

'It was so clear to me right from the start that I figured the twist was going to be that it was really a woman.'

The nation is so titillated by this film, this little movie which is quite good but doesn't have near the depth or soul of Howards End. But Howards End is basically about the class system, something which is alive and well in America but which we refuse with all our mights to acknowledge. If we believed in the class system, then we couldn't believe that absolutely anyone could become a rich and famous movie star or even president and we would start feeling helpless and hopeless in our little lives. So forget Howards End, we don't want to know.

But we do love a penis. Some of my friends have told me that the popularity of The Crying Game is due to the primal resonance of its subject matter - we never really know the person we love, we can love people who are fatally flawed, etc, etc. But I personally think that the appearance of a bigger-than- life penis right in our faces is what got everyone excited.

Don't believe me, look at the money: after 374 days on release, Howards End made dollars 21m. The Crying Game, after 117 days, made dollars 43m. And, while this is neither here nor there, Teenage Ninja Turtles III made dollars 13m in five days.

What with our current fascination with penises, this has been a disastrous year for women in movies. Traditionally, the big, action-packed, Schwarzenegger-starring movies (with fashion models as romantic leads) are released in the summer and gross a skillion dollars. The 'women's' movies, about feelings and relationships with no car chases whatsoever, are released in the autumn and maybe make Schwarzenegger's lunch money. It's from these little movies that the best actress nominations are usually culled.

But there weren't any this year, what with the preponderance of the testosterone-laden A Few Good Men and Unforgiven. They had frantically to scrape around through almost invisible art-house releases such as Indochine (dollars 3m) and Love Field (not even on the charts) to find any suitable female performances at all.

So Emma Thompson will probably win, but I hope she doesn't get too thrilled about it. What, really, is the use of tepid accolades from a bunch of old guys with hair transplants who won't pay her more even if she wins? Meanwhile, the rest of us are much more excited about the real issue of Oscar night: What will Jaye Davidson wear?

Cynthia Heimel's latest book, 'Get Your Tongue Out of My Mouth, I'm Kissing You Goodbye', will be published by Macmillan on 23 April.

(Photograph omitted)

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Group: English as an Additional Langua...

Nursery assistants required in Cambridgeshire

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

History Teacher

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

** Female PE Teacher Urgently Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Photo issued by Flinders University of an artist's impression of a Microbrachius dicki mating scene  

One look at us Scots is enough to show how it was our fishy ancestors who invented sex

Donald MacInnes
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp  

Oscar Pistorius sentence: Judge Masipa might have shown mercy, but she has delivered perfect justice

Chris Maume
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album