Reader Wayne called my attention to a Washington Times article about how the Oscars are “under pressure to replace actor, actress awards with gender-neutral honors”. Indeed, the Los Angeles Times, published at the home of the Academy Awards, ran this op-ed (by the whole editorial board) last December (click to read):
The Times article gives the pros and cons in two paragraphs:
The Academy Awards face mounting pressure to follow the Grammys, the MTV Movie & TV Awards, the Gotham Awards and the Independent Spirit Awards by replacing the male and female acting awards with “best performer” or “best performance” as entertainers increasingly identify as nonbinary and transgender.
The trend has opened another front in the debate over fairness versus inclusion, raising concerns that actresses, much like female athletes, may wind up bearing the costs of the campaign to reconfigure sex and gender classifications.
One difference is that almost nobody wants a single category for athletic competitions, while a lot of actors favor eliminating sex-specific awards (see below).
Now if you create just two non-gender-specified awards for winners in categories that were previously “best male” and “best female,” that’s an explicit nod to the sex binary, something that may not fly in today’s woke Hollywood. But that’s what the L.A. Film Critics Association did.
Further, if you create just one award, a lack of gender equity in the industry will mean that it’s likely to go to a male, and that doesn’t look good either. Many people think that in the Oscars, like athletics, women should be given an equal chance to shine. But since there’s no reason that women can’t be as competitive as men in acting (though there may be barriers to success that men don’t face), this is not identical to the situation women face in athletics.
However, the L.A. Times feels that women don’t have equal acting opportunity: even though they make up between 45% and 47% of scripted leads, only 25% of Oscar-winning movies have female leads. The paper still recommends ditching the gender-based solution:
Dissolving gendered categories for Oscars or Emmys would not magically give women parity with men in accessing substantial acting roles and being celebrated for their work. Despite some notable recent gains for women, the entertainment industry is still weighted in favor of men. The last thing we would want to see are nongendered acting categories full of male nominees and winners.
. . .But as Josh Welsh, the president of Film Independent, which puts on the Spirit Awards, said, “Keeping gendered award categories is not a solution to the problem. The change needs to come with diversifying the gatekeepers who make decisions about what films and shows get financed and marketed.”
This assumes, of course, that the gatekeepers are more likely to recognize or nominate acting talent in their own gender or ethnic group. The article continues:
He’s right, but awards still play a part in the ecosystem of Hollywood. An acting award can raise the profile and influence of the winner. It would be unsettling if a new approach to award-bestowing makes it even more difficult for women to win an award and achieve that profile.
But it’s past time to get rid of these categories — and we believe that awards shows can smartly lay out a plan to do that.
In a survey of actors, the NY Times showed them to be split: all favored “inclusivity”, but women in particular expressed worries about being shut out of acting awards.
I don’t have a dog in this fight, so I don’t much care what they do so long as everyone is given equal opportunity to succeed in directing, acting, and so on, and awards are based on merit. There does seem to be something hypocritical in eliminating gendered awards but still retaining two categories. It would seem better that if you don’t want gender categories there should be just one winner.
One difference between acting and athletics, though, is that if you combine the sexes in sports, the winner is invariably going to be male, and the unfairness of that is much more evident than it would be for acting. Given their sterling performances to date (e.g., Cate Blanchett in Tár), surely many women could win a the single acting Oscar.
Another solution is just to eliminate awards altogether, but few would go for that (I wouldn’t care).
So if the Oscars can “smartly lay out a plan” for the Academy Awards that recognizes actors of any gender or sex, what is it to be? Readers?