Why non-binary actors are asking awards like the Oscars to change
Washington - When Asia Kate Dillon presented Emma Watson with an MTV Movie Award in 2017 for best performance in a movie, it was a night of firsts.
Dillon, the first openly non-binary actor to play a non-binary character in a major TV show, was presenting the first gender-neutral acting award in a major award ceremony.
Earlier that year, Dillon sparked industry-wide conversation after going through the Emmy nomination process for playing the character Taylor Mason in Showtime's "Billions." The Emmys award acting in binary gendered categories - actor and actress. Dillon, who doesn't identify as male or female, wrote a letter to the Emmys challenging that system.
"There is no room for my identity within that award system binary," Dillon wrote in their letter. "Furthermore, if the categories of 'actor' and 'actress' are meant to denote assigned sex I ask, respectfully, why is that necessary?"
Separate gendered awards have historically had the effect of addressing one piece of Hollywood's problem with gender: Women aren't cast as often as men in the sorts of roles that get nominations for awards. Supporters of continuing or expanding gendered awards often point to gender-neutral categories where women are completely shut out.
According to the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, almost 11 percent of the 100 highest grossing films of 2019 were directed by women, up from only 4.5 percent in 2018. And yet no female directors were nominated for a feature film directing award by the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, Directors' Guild or Oscars in 2020.
That exclusion led "Honey Boy" director Alma Har'el to publicly call for a separate female director category. "Unless we have a new category for women directors - the same way we have (separate) actor and actress categories - we won't see any changes," she told Variety.
This separate but equal approach, however, doesn't address the growing cohort of actors, film professionals and audience members who don't identify on the gender binary.
"Young people are identifying less with the gender binary and it's, I think, a necessity for survival for organizations to reflect the society that we're living in," says Zackary Drucker, an actor and artist who consulted on Amazon Studios' "Transparent."
Most award ceremonies show no sign of reconsidering their categories. There are a few notable exceptions. And in those cases, it seems that gender neutral categories don't necessarily mean that women are excluded from recognition.
The Television Critics Association awards have been gender neutral the longest, since they began handing out individual achievement awards for comedy and drama in 1997.
Although the gender distribution over time for those award recipients is nowhere near parity, women have been awarded consistently in those categories since 2010.
After the MTV Movie and TV awards for acting went genderless in 2017, women dominated. Since the Grammys reconfigured their categories for pop, R&B, rock and country performances, the winners in those categories have been pretty evenly split - except for the rock category where men have won almost every year.
Looking to the Grammys, plagued with controversy around the lack of recognition for black and female artists, might not seem an obvious choice. In January, Deborah Dugan, the Grammys' first female president and CEO, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging vote rigging, sexual misconduct and a "boys' club mentality" at the Recording Academy.
But the Grammys has something that the Oscars doesn't: a best new artist award. "It's not fair to ask someone who's been in the industry for two decades to compete against someone who's the new debut," says Jacob Tobia, the author of "Sissy" who identifies as non-binary and provides the voice of Double Trouble, a non-binary character on Netflix's "She-Ra and the Princesses of Power."
"The competition would be based in something that actually impacts your ability to do your job," Tobia said.
There is some evidence that having categories based on things other than gender leads to diverse nominations and wins. Even though the Directors Guild didn't nominate any women for its theatrical feature film award in 2020, it did nominate a majority of women (and women of color) for the first-time feature film category, indicating that the vanguard of new directors are as diverse as they are talented.
This year's DGA award for first-time feature film went to Alma Har'el.The Washington Post