What a difference a year makes. In January, Nicole Kidman was cast as Lucille Ball in “Being the Ricardos,” under the writing and direction of Aaron Sorkin. To say people were unkind to this casting is an understatement. Most reactions – specifically from people on Twitter and TikTok – were downright spiteful, outrageous, and over the top. But this should not be too surprising. People on these apps are after likes, retweets, and attention. Trumped-up outrage and hot takes help achieve those goals. Most modern-day Film Twitter types feel as though they must assert some self-righteous authority on everything and then some. Despite a yearlong assassination about the appropriateness of Kidman’s casting, the rage machines of Film Twitter and TikTok have been stopped in their tracks. Kidman has proven them wrong.
There has been a spectacular and enthusiastic reaction to Kidman’s actual performance since “Being the Ricardos” began screening for critics, pundits, and industry insiders less just a few weeks ago. The praise of her performance has been nearly uniform from every person who has seen the film, with most saying it’s one of the best portrayals of a career that already featues masterpiece portraits of Virginia Woolf in “The Hours” and Satine in “Moulin Rouge!”. This consensus is a stunning development considering the discourse that preceded the film’s debut. The approach Kidman’s performance has been said to be less of the “authentic” transformation that Kristen Stewart strives for in “Spencer,” but rather a deeper, more lived-in interpretation of Ball.
Kidman has weathered a brutal time in the past year. The casting news of “Being the Ricardos” arrived at such a particular time for the actress. In 2017, “Big Little Lies” reinvigorated Kidman’s career after years of disappointments and flops. Kidman was back in vogue after a slump, and acted as figurehead in the #MeToo era playing Celeste Wright, a woman in a physically abusive marriage, in the HBO miniseries. She won every television award in the book and was afforded exciting new opportunities, such as her brave, daring, subversive performance in “Destroyer” or portrayal of Fox News whistleblower Gretchen Carlson in “Bombshell.”
But once someone reaches the top, they can only be loved for so long before they must hated again. Last year, when another Kidman television series debuted, “The Undoing,” Film Twitter types and self-proclaimed “critics” vocalized resentment about her oversaturation in the industry – many announced a no-vote against her in the Best Actress category at the Critics Choice awards in protest of the volume of her work in such a short amount of time. Imagine having the time to not only think but announce it on Twitter, as though you are *that* important. The anti-Kidman sentiments were already brewing last fall. Therefore, when the casting “Being the Ricardos” was announced, the pessimistic and toxic overreaction was exaggerated to epic proportions.
I’m not saying people were wrong for exercising a bit of skepticism. Be skeptical. You don’t owe Nicole Kidman anything except a bit of respect for everything she has done for the entertainment industry over the past 30 years. While there were a few sobering voices who reserved praise or criticism of Kidman’s casting until they saw the film, the louder majority of Film Twitter and TikTok users took it upon themselves to lambast Sorkin for casting Kidman as Lucille Ball. Apparently, Film Twitter and TikTokers believe they have some authority and entitlement to tell Aaron Sorkin who to cast as the lead actress in his movie. To make matters even more puzzling, there was a parallel controversy, with the casting of Javier Bardem, a Spanish Actor, playing Desi Arnaz, a Cuban. That is a legitimate conversation to have about Latinx representation. And yet, in most respects, the discourse about Kidman’s casting always bizarrely overshadowed Bardem’s casting. Where are the priorities?
The less extreme takes questioned, “Why would you cast a ‘dramatic actress’ as Lucille Ball?” In retrospect, his is such a moot point, because “Being the Ricardos” is not a remake of “I Love Lucy,” but rather a behind-the-scenes story with elements of both comedy and drama. And as though a “dramatic actress” cannot broaden her range and do something different? But most of the Internet fury involved digs lodged at Kidman’s appearance: that she does not resemble Ball as much as Debra Messing, and more commonly, that long-held misogynist trope that “Kidman can’t move her forehead” [thus why cast her as the extraordinarily expressive Lucille Ball]. This is the best they have after 15 years since making fun of Kidman’s botox was a mainstream garbage joke. All of the goodwill Kidman accrued in “Big Little Lies” evaporated and this conversation was the norm for the past year. A Kidman performance as Ball was not even given the benefit of the doubt. Because that is what the algorithms demand: loud, terse negativity posing as intellectual and cultural authority.
Kidman was sparingly used in the teaser trailer released earlier this fall. This, of course, led to a Film Twitter narrative was that Amazon was “hiding” her from the public out of shame; that “Being the Ricardos” was doomed to fail; and Kidman was on track to be one of the biggest miscasts of the decade. Even after the full-length trailer released a few weeks ago, people took a screenshot from the trailer mocking Kidman’s appearance and specifically her face and forehead. I saw dozens of tweets and TikTok videos using the same image of Kidman as Lucy pausing, freezing up in a front of a crowd as an example of how terrible she looked. Key word: looked. And this was coming from a crowd that prides themselves on being the among “wokest” people in the world. People pretended to be indignant about this casting injustice to Lucille Ball. Little do these people who are retweeting and recording TikTok videos know, Ball’s daughter, Lucie Arnaz, gave a ringing endorsement of Kidman’s casting and work in the film.
Nicole Kidman deserved better from the start. The mudslinging was cruel and unnecessary. And there is a great irony in this tale of Nicole Kidman and “Being the Ricardos.” Because Film Twitter trampled on her for a year, they almost empowered Kidman’s rise in the Best Actress race. They lowered expectations of her so much that the impact of her work punched even harder and allowed for a much stronger buzz than if critics went in with lofty expectations. It is even more ironic, considering Kidman has the potential to win, and beat Kristen Stewart’s in “Spencer,” the horse most of Film Twitter is passionately endorsing this year. According to most of Film Twitter, the Oscar is signed, sealed, and delivered for Stewart. I have always doubted this, whether it’s Kidman, Jennifer Hudson for “Respect,” Penelope Cruz for “Parallel Mothers,” or whomever. If Natalie Portman failed to win for “Jackie” in 2016, it seems unlikely that Stewart can for a similar role and from the same director for a myriad of reasons: the “Twilight” factor, the unusual brand of the actress, the acquired taste of the film, the casting of an American as Princess Diana, the lackluster “Spencer” screenplay, etc.
Kidman has presented herself as a competitive option that is beginning to rise at the same time Stewart is peaking, long before the season even officially begins. After using the lowest common denominator, mean-spirited attacks against Kidman all year long, it is possible the awards season will end with Kidman upending the performance Film Twitter loves the most this year for the Best Actress Oscar trophy.
“Being the Ricardos” is very much an old-school Academy movie and is a surefire Best Picture nomination. Kidman is a longtime veteran of the industry who continues to pay her dues. Even with her career resurgence in the past five years, she did not receive a nomination for “Destroyer,” “Bombshell,” or “Boy Erased.” Kidman even missed out on an Emmy nomination for “Big Little Lies” season two, where she delivered a performance even stronger than the previous season for which she won the Emmy. She has finally been presented with a consensus film that will play across-the-board with the Academy that may enable her to win her second Academy Award for Best Actress. Lucille Ball is the right type of role to win an Oscar. Ask Renee Zellweger and Rami Malek how taking on a beloved American icon went for their recent Oscar prospects. Lucille Ball as told by Sorkin is a role that to which Academy will likely respond more warmly than Princess Diana as told by Pablo Lorrain’s unique style that tends to divide people. (Again, see Natalie Portman in “Jackie.”)
I have covered the Oscars for a longtime. I got my start in writing about them on AwardsDaily back in 2014. I wrote and co-hosted the podcast regularly at NextBestPicture between 2017-2021. At the beginning of this summer, I stepped away from my role at NBP for two reasons (1) my first semester of law school at Penn State was set to begin this past August, (2) I started my own podcast about the “Scream” film franchised called “Scream with Ryan C. Showers.” Since then, I have gained a great deal of perspective about how Film Twitter operates.
Most people cannot see it because they are still inside the Film Twitter fish bowl, but the hysteria and judgment that these people cycle through on some quest for “principles” and purity – like the Nicole Kidman casting as Lucille Ball – is pretty exhausting. In Kidman’s case, it has been all for not, considering how much of a success the film turned out to be. Going to law school gave me a real dose of reality and allowed me to focus on things that make me happy in my personal life, and not feel obligated to the demands of the Film Twitter zeitgeist.
If you follow me on Twitter or read my coverage of Nicole Kidman or “Destroyer” in the past, you would know I deeply admire Kidman. I did not realize it at the time, but the online storm she faced from Film Twitter’s judgment and hyperbolic TikTok videos jeering at her made me, as a fan, feel small and powerless. It made me feel as though I was “not allowed” to defend her because it went against the grain and consensus of Film Twitter. Plus, I was “biased” for already liking Kidman, in general, so whatever I said would not matter to the self-important and self-labeled “critics.” This entire tale has also showed me that much of what Sasha writes about here about cultural divides has a lot of merit. Eventually, if people are lucky enough to distance themselves from the online crowd of outdoing each other for likes and social capital, they will see. Imagine the negative energy that could have been saved had who lambasted Kidman simply allowed the film to release.