Rewards Reform

Everyone Agrees: It’s Time to Do Away with Gendered Award Show Categories

The editorial board of the LA Times is calling for an end to gender categories in the Academy Awards and Emmys.

Gender categories have been a part of the Academy Awards since its inception in 1929. But when the Primetime Emmy Awards debuted in 1949, it had gender-neutral categories (and did not include awards for actors in general), but it followed the lead of other award shows over time.

Now both award shows, the editorial points out, are far behind their peers in this area. “The Grammys went gender-neutral 10 years ago, doing away with distinctions between male and female singers,” the LA Times writes. “The MTV Movie and TV Awards have been gender-neutral since 2017. This year, the L.A. Film Critics Assn. did away with gendered categories for performers — and picked two winners in each acting category.

“Film Independent’s Spirit Awards show, which recognizes independent films at a celebrity-studded event near the Santa Monica Pier, has dropped gender categories for acting awards to be given out in March.”

The obvious problem with gendered awards is that there is no category for non-binary actors. This problem came to a head when non-binary actor Emma Corrin received an Emmy nomination for their portrayal of Princess Diana in Netflix’s The Crown. After being sorted into the Best Actress category, Corrin publicly criticized the use of gendered awards.

But one drawback to removing gender categories is the prospect that men will dominate the awards. As the editorial puts it, “gender neutrality does not mean gender equality.”

The editorial first cites a number of studies that suggest film and TV are becoming more gender diverse: “According to the 2022 UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report on films, women made up 47.2% of leads in 2021 films. The second part of the UCLA report on the 2020-21 season found that women made up 44.3% of broadcast scripted leads — and higher percentages in lead roles in cable and streamed shows.”

However, the LA Times goes on, “According to the UCLA film report, only 25% of films that won Oscars in any category at the 2021 show had a female lead.”

One solution, according to Josh Welsh, president of Film Independent (the group behind the Spirit Awards), is ensuring diversity at the top. “Keeping gendered award categories is not a solution to the problem,” he says. “The change needs to come with diversifying the gatekeepers who make decisions about what films and shows get financed and marketed.”

There is also the issue that going gender-neutral could shrink the overall number of nominees, as most categories are limited to five. But that can be solved by expanding gender-neutral categories to ten nominees, possibly with two winners.

“These are all issues that can be resolved,” the LA Times concludes.

“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.”

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