For a while, the battle of the wide ages for Best Actress was one of the top stories at this year's Oscars. Just in the last couple of weeks, however, the battle between the octogenarian actress (Emmanuelle Riva for "Amour") and one of the youngest nominees ever (Quvenzhane Wallis for "Beasts of the Southern Wild") has whittled down to the experienced actress being the likely winner. This doesn't mean that Wallis hasn't already set a high mark in what young talents well under age 10 could accomplish cinematically in the near future.
It may seem like evolution has sent down young talents with little to no acting experience who continually display prodigious acting prowess. But the Oscars already could see the same handwriting on the juvenile wall nearly 80 years ago when a little girl named Shirley Temple managed to confound everybody with her charming talent. She may have been the singular reason why the Oscars started a special juvenile award in 1934 that was first awarded to Temple at the 1935 ceremony.
After that, 11 more juvenile actors and actresses periodically won this specialized award up until 1960 when juveniles were then consolidated into the Best Actress category. Out of all, most of them were over 10 years old, with only Shirley Temple, Vincent Winter, and Margaret O'Brien being the three youngest. Down the line, it was bestowed to adult-like teenagers who may have been too mature to want a literally miniature Oscar sitting on their mantels.
That may explain why Oscar decided to do away with the mini juvenile award after 1960 when Hayley Mills won for "Pollyanna." Something happened in the 21st century, though, when a crop of young actors and actresses started popping up that seemed to have innate understanding of how to act profoundly in movies. How such a thing works without a shred of acting experience or training has become one of the mysteries of evolution and DNA.
Perhaps it's in how media works and the abilities to assimilate so much more when right out of the womb. Or it may be some kind of memory transfer we have yet to understand in the realms of the human genome. While that acknowledgement has been gradual in Oscar awarding young prodigies for Best Actor or Actress, Quvenzhane Wallis may be the beginning of a new wave about to wash over the movie industry.
There shouldn't be any doubt that more actresses like Quvenzhane Wallis exist. With talent pools so much easier to find now, those talents will be found and cast in new movies as significant finds. It may all speed up if Wallis happens to win Best Actress Sunday night as she deserves to.
If Oscar ever resumed the juvenile award, it might not create as much competition when not competing in the same category with the adults. Regardless, juveniles deserve their own category so more of them can be nominated rather than Oscar scoping out one every few years for Best Actress. And, in fact, the juvenile award should have five notches to accommodate the influx of these probable young talents on the horizon.
Once that happens, we'd have a real evolutionary race between the juveniles and the adults. The only negative would be if movies intended for mature audiences end up with all juvenile casts, and become better acted than the adults can ever muster.