Leading vs. Supporting Categories in 2016 …
IMO Viola Davis was the leading actress in Fences. Oscar had her in the supporting category but I think this was a move on the producers’ part to ensure a win. Davis not only appears throughout the film but she eventually takes it over. This is akin to putting Shirley Booth in supporting for Come Back, Little Sheba because co-star Burt Lancaster had a bigger name.
Jeff Bridges is the co-leading actor with Chris Pine in Hell or High Water. This is a cat-and-mouse two-hander IMO. Oscar had Bridges in supporting.
Lucas Hedges is the co-leading actor with Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea. The film is as much his story as that of his uncle. Oscar had Hedges in supporting.
Dev Patel is the leading actor in Lion. Oscar had him in supporting too.
Is Taraji P. Henson the only lead in Hidden Figures? I have Octavia Spencer in support.
I disagree. Washington isn't simply better known than Davis. He dominates the movie much more than the comparable relationships in La La Land, Loving, and Florence Foster Jenkins. For the first two hours he's almost always on screen and Davis only has a couple of minutes alone or without Washington. Then he dies and the last twenty minutes is about his funeral. The movie is about him, and only secondarily his marriage. It's basically "Death of a Salesman," as "Life and Death of an African-American Sanitation Worker."
I personally think Bridges coasts through Hell or High Water. Pine and Foster are the characters who have all the action, the moral dilemma and make almost all of the risks.
I don't think anyone, even those who didn't like the movie, thought that Hedges was a co-lead. His being orphaned is the dilemma for Affleck. The movie isn't about his growth or development. It's clearly about Affleck. The movie stands or falls on Affleck's life. Hedges is a somewhat selfish teenager whose father died. There's no reason why that event would dramatically change him, (he's not responsible in any way for his father's death) or stop him chasing girls, and it doesn't. There isn't a part of his character that's separate from Affleck having to deal with it. By contrast, Hedges has little or nothing to do with Affleck's relationship with his ex-wife, the often contemptuous view of the other townspeople towards him or the central tragedy of Affleck's life.
I forget when Patel's character actually appears in Lion. Is it 40% or 50% of the way in?
Henson is clearly the lead. She's the character with the big love story, the one who interacts with Costner and Parsons, and the one whose scientific knowledge leads to the dramatic NASA incident. The other two's role is distinctly less.