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Does Hollywood have mommy issues?
With several actresses garnering Oscar buzz for playing crazed maternal figures, Tinseltown's bad-mom obsession is coming under scrutiny
Barbara Hershey plays Erica, the suffocating mother of a fragile ballerina, in "Black Swan."
Barbara Hershey plays Erica, the suffocating mother of a fragile ballerina, in "Black Swan."
Niko Tavernise
A

s the Oscar-prediction odds firm up, it seems likely the supporting actress field will be dominated by women playing crazy, domineering, and even murderous mothers: Barbara Hershey in Black Swan, Melissa Leo in The Fighter, and Jacki Weaver in the Australian film, Animal Kingdom. "Nothing seems to delight Oscar voters like a mother from hell," says Stephen Farber in The Daily Beast. Indeed, last year, Mo'Nique took home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar (and countless other awards) for playing a "cinematic monster" of a mother in Precious. Why is Hollywood so fixated on terrible maternal instincts?

There's a historical precedent: "Hollywood once sent a very different message," says Farber in The Daily Beast, noting that actresses once won Oscars for playing "noble matriarchs" (see 1937's The Good Earth and 1940's The Grapes of Wrath). But that changed with 1945's Mildred Pierce (Watch the original theatrical trailer), which "marked the transition... to the more disturbing matriarchs who began to grab audiences' attention." Joan Crawford "won an Oscar for her definitive portrayal of mother love carried to unhealthy extremes."
"Hollywood's bad mother obsession"

And nice mothers don't do well at the box office: "Nice and easy doesn't sell as well as crazy and crazy," says Meredith Carroll at Babble. The majority of us have some mother issues, "and Hollywood is nothing if not good at picking up and running with the things that sometimes previously only lived inside of our wildest dreams or lurked in the dregs of our worst nightmares."
"Does Hollywood have a mother complex?"

The bad mommy obsession isn't unique to film: "Actually, Hollywood is a latecomer" when it comes to this theme, says Kristina Chew at Care2. "Bad mothers have been a stock character on the stage since the start of Western literature," from Medea to Oedipus's Jocasta. And society in general has long castigated mothers, whether for having children at the wrong time or failing to stay home with their children. On stage or screen or in real life, "it's not easy being a mother."
"Hollywood's love of the bad mother"

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