By Rosie Alger
Elm Staff Writer
Acting awards have been cemented in the public’s eye as a gendered affair. Best Actor and Best Actress are the pinnacle of the night at the Oscars, but why are these categories divided? Does a person’s ability to act depend on their gender? What about the actors who identify outside of this gender binary? Isn’t the term actor used as gender neutral now anyway? It is time for the entertainment industry start ending society’s obsession with gender.
Whether or not the Oscars and other awards shows should remove the gendered labels from their acting categories is not a new debate. In fact, some awards shows used to have unisex categories, and have since transitioned to the gendered categories. Why is it that acting in particular is divided by gender? We don’t see categories like best female director. Acting is a skill just like any other, and one’s ability to hone that skill or their success in doing so is not based on their gender.
Many people who argue in support of the gendered categories claim that, in preserving these somewhat antiquated distinctions, they are ensuring the presence of women at these awards at all. They say that, if the categories were to merge, women would stand no chance against their male counterparts.
Claire Fallon at the Huffington Post said, “It’s hardly an insult to women, however, to acknowledge that the Academy has a dreadful record recognizing the work of anyone who isn’t a white, straight, cisgender man. The awards depend heavily on the choices of an Academy that, as surveys have shown, is overwhelmingly white and male.” In order for this merge to be successful, therefore, we must not forget that we also need more diversity in the academy itself, and more women and minorities making the big decisions in Hollywood.
In the meantime, where do we honor actors who don’t fit into the cis female or male categories? Many trans actors would like to be honored within their gender identity, but what about non-binary actors? In the current system, these artists aren’t honored at all.
Fallon said, “genderqueer actors might have no option but to be invisible. As a performer who doesn’t identify as a man or a woman, they can’t simply be slotted into a Best Actor or Actress nomination…Diverse representation is exactly where the Academy Awards are already failing, especially where it comes to people of color and LGBTQ members of its community.”
In fact, much like the problematic casting of white actors in Asian roles, such as Scarlett Johansson in “Ghost in the Shell,” straight, cis actors are still honored for roles where they play people in the LGBTQ+ community.
“Jared Leto actually won the Best Supporting Actor award in 2014 for his portrayal of a transgender woman in ‘Dallas Buyers Club,’” Fallon said. This problematic false representation of these minorities is only glorified by the cis-heteronormative acting categories we see now.
There is hope, however. While it is no Oscars, the MTV awards actually changed their acting award categories this year to make genderless labels. Of course, there are some complications in changing an established system like this, but MTV is handling it in creative ways.
Huffington Post writer Joy D’Souza said, “Though eliminating gender-specific divisions does reduce the list of potential nominees (generally there were six people nominated in each one), MTV has apparently countered that by introducing new categories that include both film and TV, like Best Tearjerker, Best Duo, Best American Story, and Best Fight Against The System.” These new categories are not just progressive, they are also interesting, fun, and dynamic.
I recognize that more mainstream, serious award shows might not want to move in this particular direction with their categories, but that doesn’t mean they can’t aim for genderless awards from a different angle.
Ultimately, what it comes down to is respect and representation. The more identities and varieties of people we can see in our media and can honor for their work, the more chance us regular non-Hollywood people have of being awarded the same respect in our own daily lives.
To put it in the words of someone in the industry, MTV president Chris McCarthy said, “We have to constantly be pushing ourselves to not only respond to culture, but lead it. If we’re going to do an award show that celebrates content, why would we not modernize what that looks like?”