As more and more awards shows go gender neutral, will the big ceremonies follow?

Two more award shows went gender neutral last week, fueling further speculation about when big award shows – think the Oscars, Emmys and (yes) Golden Globes – might follow suit and drop the distinction between “ actor” and “actress” in their respective competitions.

The organizers of the Spirit Awards and the Canadian Screen Awards follow the examples of the Recording Academy, MTV and the Gotham Film & Media Institute. The announcements by Film Independent on August 23 and the Canadian Academy on August 25 follow the decision in July by the backers of the British Independent Film Awards to eliminate gender categories from this year’s competition.

I’ve been writing about this trend for several years, including my 2019 column “It’s Time for the Emmys to Eliminate Gendered Acting Categories,” which got the most attention of anything I’ve written this year. -the. I followed that up with an article in 2020 (“Emmys and other awards should break down gender divides, and here’s how to do it”), which suggested ways to do it.

The idea of ​​gender-neutral award shows started gaining momentum when the MTV Movie & TV Awards dropped gender-specific categories in 2017, but Grammy Awards organizers scrapped gender-specific categories even earlier, scrapping gender-specific categories. female pop vocal performances and male pop. vocal performance accolades over a decade ago. And the Television Critics Assn. has consistently rewarded “individual achievement” in comedy and drama.

Last year, the Gotham Awards converted to a gender-neutral approach after eight years of awarding separate actor and actress awards.

“It’s something we’ve been discussing for a while,” Film Independent chairman Josh Welsh said of the Spirit change. “There was a lot of excitement about it for a while, but there was also some trepidation about it. It’s a big change, and I think we really wanted to talk about it carefully and make sure it was the right thing to do.

He notes that the majority of trophies are neutral. “Just to keep it on the Spirit Awards, for nearly 40 years we’ve honored writers, directors, producers, editors, cinematographers with no reference to genre,” he says.

The Switch is more accommodating to the non-binary acting community. In 2017, “Billions” star Asia Kate Dillon, the first non-binary gender performer to play a non-binary character on a major television show, asked the TV Academy to clarify her gender distinctions. Ultimately, Dillon requested to be entered in the “supporting actor” category at the Emmys; they then asked the SAG Awards to drop gender-specific awards as well.

“There are a lot of great performers out there, and I think we’ll see more who don’t identify as male or female,” Welsh says. “For award shows to be in the position of saying to one of these artists, ‘If you’re nominated, you have to choose a man or a woman’ – that’s just not a good approach.”

Merging the acting fields raises the question of the number of artists who will be honoured: the Spirit Awards have extended their field of nomination among artists to 10 (instead of five each for actor and actress), adding a television supporting performer category – which means there will at least still be multiple winners.

Going forward, there are potential unintended consequences, including gender imbalance. But Welsh says Film Independent will keep tabs on those issues. “It’s a real and legitimate concern,” he said. “But I feel like the issue isn’t the award shows; the problem is the industry. It’s not a level playing field in film and TV for female creators. These are the decisions that are made throughout the year.

He notes that Film Independent voters are far from monolithic, biased towards women and with a high percentage of people of color and people who identify as LGBTQ. “If there was ever an awards body with a strong and diverse voting body that could handle this approach to voting, I think it’s Film Independent.”

[Photo: Taylour Paige won this year’s Spirit female lead award in film for her performance in “Zola.”]

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