It’s time to say goodbye to gender-specific award categories

As Hollywood and the broader film industry continue to evolve into more inclusive and accepting places, so should the accompanying award ceremonies. Gone are the days when ‘Best Actor’ and ‘Best Actress’ categories suffice as separate entities — the awards should be defined by the quality of performance, and gender separation of such categories implies a difference between the two.  

By that same vein, limiting the categories to male and female excludes those performers who identify as being elsewhere on the gender spectrum. Acting is a profession that requires the same skills from person to person, no matter the gender. As the industry begins to hire more LGBTQ people, and more films and TV shows aim to highlight the LGBTQ experience, we need a space to recognize their achievements as well.  

In 2017, the MTV Movie and TV Awards made headlines with their decision to drop the gender-specific categories, opting for a single gender-neutral acting category instead. In an interview for New York Magazine, MTV President Chris McCarthy said their audience “doesn’t see male-female dividing lines,” and decided to remove the separate categories.  

Also in 2017, “Billions” star Asia Kate Dillon, who identifies as gender non-binary, was up for an Emmy award for their performance on the Showtime series. Dillon was asked by Showtime which acting category they would like to be submitted under: “best-supporting actor” or “best supporting actress?” This prompted Dillon to write a letter to the Television Academy, asking if ‘actor’ or ‘actress’ indicated anatomy or identity, and why they had to make that distinction at all. What followed was an educational conversation with the organizers, who told Dillon that the official Academy rules dictate that actually, “anyone can submit under either category for any reason,” and no gender qualification is required. Dillon ended up choosing the “best-supporting actor” category, as ‘actor’ is a historically gender-neutral term.  

While these scenarios proved a big step forward, signaling to the entertainment industry that times were changing, many other awards shows have yet to follow suit. Major awards show such as the BAFTAs and the Academy Awards still have their gender-separated categories in place. And what for? The Best Director and Screenwriter categories are gender-neutral, why shouldn’t the acting categories be gender-neutral also?  

So, in honor of Pride Month, I propose we abolish the gendered acting categories at all entertainment awards shows for film, TV, and even music. Humans have always existed at many different places on the gender spectrum, but only recently have we as a society elected to acknowledge these people. There are many talented trans and non-binary actors in the industry, and I think it is time we give them a place to be recognized and lauded for exactly who they are.