Ensemble Casts Do More Than Support

Andrew Bujalski’s ensemble cast in Support the Girls (photo: Magnolia Pictures)

In recent years, the argument has been made that the Academy should include an Oscar category for Best Ensemble Cast. The Screen Actors Guild gives an award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast, and why not?

Consider the many films you have seen where a major star’s performance garners raves as well as an Oscar nomination, leaving the remaining (often brilliant) cast members with no recognition for their work.

As evidence that the Best Ensemble Cast Oscar needs to exist, think back to the 2013 release of August: Osage County, a film bursting with Oscar-worthy performances, yet only Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts received Oscar nods. The dining room table scene alone solidifies the importance of a group of talented actors working together to bring a story alive.

John Wells’ ensemble cast in August: Osage County (photo: The Weinstein Company)

Was any one performance in Little Miss Sunshine or Spotlight better than the other? Actors understand that without the energy they receive from their fellow performers, their own work may never reach its full potential.

As long as we are talking about ensemble casts, try imagining Girls Trip without any of its four fabulous stars. While some critics might argue that Tiffany Haddish stole the show with her over-the-top rendition of crazy Dina, it was Regina Hall’s performance as Ryan, a woman wronged, whose story and resilience gives the other character’s stories a reason to exist.

Hall’s memorable performance in this month’s Filmworks showing of Support the Girls is testament to her career: She has more than 40 films to her credit. Considered by some “the best actress you don’t know,” Hall’s work in ensemble films like Think Like a Man, The Best Man, and Girls Trip is at times overlooked, but make no mistake, Hall is an actress of formidable talent.

Regina Hall leads an ensemble cast in Support the Girls (Photo: Magnolia Pictures)

As the manager of the sleazy, sexist sports bar, Double Whammy, in Support the Girls, she serves as the emotional center of the film. Hall is the champion of the women she works with, stuck working in a bar filled with obnoxious, idiotic men who never learned from their mothers to respect or value women.

Relative newcomer Haley Lu Richardson (The Edge of Seventeen and Columbus) oozes cheerleader glee, using her infectious positivity as a shield against the ugliness of her work world, yet her effusive energy never rings false. In her film debut, the very funny Shayna McHayle (also known as the hip-hop artist Junglepussy) adds the perfect amount of cynicism to the story.

Support the Girls sends the message that while male sexism is still part of the social hierarchy, it is the bond forged between women that will allow them to prevail. The movie’s ensemble cast makes that point together.

Cindy Peters Duzi is a new Filmworks board member, and she teaches high school English. She blogs about cinema on her Instagram.