On Sunday night, Brendan Fraser took home the award for Best Actor at the Critics’ Choice Awards for his performance in The Whale — his first awards show victory since The Whale sparked his Hollywood comeback story, and the first major award he’s won since the Screen Actors Guild Award he received as a member of the cast of Crash in 2006.
The actor, whose career was derailed for years by depression, injuries and perhaps most notably his decision to speak out about an alleged sexual assault at the hands of former Hollywood Foreign Press Association president Philip Berk, burst into tears as his name was called and delivered an emotional acceptance speech.
“I was in the wilderness and I probably should have left a trail of breadcrumbs, but you found me,” Fraser said. “For anyone like Charlie, who struggles with obesity, or for anyone who just feels like you are in a dark sea: I want you to know that you too have the strength to just get to your feet and go to the light. And good things will happen.” Later, in the press room, when asked what the award meant to him, he tearfully responded, “More than I know how to say in words.”
Most people on social media were touched by Fraser’s emotional victory, but because this is the internet, the tender moments inspired plenty of cynical backlash as well. Some accused those praising his performance as simply “patronizing” him, while others likened him to “a Make-a-Wish kid at DisneyWorld.”
It’s true, of course, that some of the Hollywood insiders who pushed Fraser out are the very same ones now patting themselves on the back for welcoming him back into the fold. Their hypocrisy can be somewhat difficult to stomach. But can’t we just…forget about them for a moment and be happy for him anyway? Fraser has been through the ringer — enduring several surgeries to repair injuries from his years as an action star, putting on weight and losing out on roles thanks to Hollywood’s cruel obsession with physical perfection, falling into a depression after a divorce and the death of his mother and, of course, being sexually assaulted by someone with the power to destroy his career — and he’s managed to bounce back in spite of it all. Isn’t that worth celebrating?
Perhaps you don’t think The Whale is worthy of the accolades it’s bringing in for Fraser. That’s a fair point. The general critical consensus is that Fraser is excellent in it, but the movie itself is another story. (For more on that, check out our review here.) But even if you’re rooting for someone else to win Best Actor, you have to admit it’s still moving to watch a man who was prevented from doing what he loves for years triumph after being lost “in the wilderness,” as he put it, for so long. Fraser is, by all accounts, a very kind, gracious person who’s passionate about the craft of acting. (Just watch how sweet he is to his friends and collaborators in interviews like this or this.) How can you be mad when someone like that gets a second chance?
The truth is, most of the people who are reveling in Fraser’s new success aren’t Hollywood big-wigs or pretentious A-listers. They’re people like his Encino Man co-star Ke Huy Quan, who have also been unfairly shut out of the industry — or, more broadly, people who know a thing or two about what it’s like when life doesn’t go according to plan. (A clip of the Everything Everywhere All At Once star sprinting across the room to congratulate Fraser also went viral over the weekend.) Leading-man looks fade, and tragedy and mental illness sometimes get in the way, but success stories like Fraser’s are a testament to his resilience and a reminder to the rest of us to remain hopeful — or at the very least, to keep being the type of person whose arms people feel compelled to run into from across the room.
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