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Are gender-neutral awards the future?

This week, Emma Watson made history in winning the MTV TV & Movie Awards’ first gender-neutral accolade, for Best Actor in a Movie. Collecting the award for her role as Belle in Disney’s live action remake of Beauty and the Beast, she said “The first acting award... that doesn't separate nominees based on their sex says something about how we perceive the human experience”.

According to Watson, our perception of the human experience has widened, particularly in regard to gender, and awards categories that do not separate by gender are just one example of this.

There are real reasons for the gender separation of awards. For example, the Academy Award for Best Director – one of the most prestigious awards in the film industry, and a gender-neutral category – has seen only four female nominees and just one winner, making the ratio of female to male winners 1 to 88. Differentiating male and female nominees ensures that female actresses receive the accolades they deserve, even in such a male-dominated industry.

And even within the gender separation of categories there is room for people who identify as neither gender. In recent years, the Oscars has been under fierce scrutiny for its diversity record in regards to race, but one lesser-touted breakthrough was made in 2017 by actor Kelly Mantle, a gender-fluid performer who chooses to use ‘he’ pronouns. He set an Academy first when he was put forward in both the Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress categories, and although he did not receive a nomination, Mantle sets an example as to how actors who do not fit into the male and female categories can still be accommodated by an industry leader.

However, I do wonder whether the increasing prevalence of gender-fluid and non-binary actors –

such as Asia Kate Dillon, star of Showtime drama Billions who challenged the Emmy Awards this year for excluding actors such as themselves in using gender categories – spells the end of the separation between ‘Actor’ and ‘Actress’, instead judging performances against each other on merit. As our understanding of gender widens – and like Watson, I believe it has and will continue to do so – gender binaries will seem more and more archaic. As Watson said at the MTV Awards, ‘acting is about the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes…that doesn’t need to be separated into two different categories’.

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