(NEXSTAR) – The Grammys stopped doing it in 2012. The MTV Video Music Awards followed four years later. And, as of 2023, the Independent Spirit Awards wasn’t doing it either.
So why do the Oscars still separate honorees into gender-specific categories?
The nominees for the 95th Academy Awards were announced in late January, and among this year’s contenders were 20 actors who earned nods for performances in some of 2022’s best films. But just as it was at the very first Oscars ceremony in 1929, these actors are only vying against other performers of the same gender: specifically, in the Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress categories.
It’s not just the Oscars, either. The Golden Globes, the Emmys and the SAG Awards still separate the year’s best “actors” and “actresses” (or in the case of the SAG Awards, “male actors” and “female actors”) into their own groups.
Their decision to maintain gender-specific categories may also seem increasingly perplexing with each passing year, especially considering the Oscars don’t separate other nominees — such as those competing for Best Director, Best Cinematographer, Best Original Song, etc. — into categories based on sex.
“I feel like major organizations that are still gender segregating awards are starting to feel dated at best, and out of touch with the direction younger people are taking the country,” said Diane Anderson-Minshall, the current president of the Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, also known as GALECA.
Anderson-Minshall, also the former president of Equal Pride, which produces publications including The Advocate and Out magazine, told Nexstar she thinks it would be a “smart move” for awards organizations to move to genderless categories, as it would allow for “the small percentage of nonbinary [actors] to have a level playing field.”
As it stands, however, some awards ceremonies require nonbinary performers to choose the category in which they would prefer to compete. The Emmys, for instance, required “Billions” actor Asia Kate Dillon to choose from the Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress fields when they submitted their name for contention in 2017, Variety reported. And the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has a similar policy, with nonbinary performers having to submit their names for Golden Globes consideration under whichever category they choose, the HPFA told Nexstar.
Some actors, meanwhile, may simply choose to abstain from competition altogether, to avoid being categorized by a gender they don’t identify with.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — the organization behind the Oscars — is said to be discussing issues of inclusivity and soliciting advice for any possible changes regarding its existing categories. But the Academy has not yet made any decisions, let alone any statements or timeframes concerning possible shakeups to the established categories.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HPFA), too, has not yet shared any intentions for their Golden Globes to go gender-neutral, though they review the categories “every year,” a member of the HPFA told Nexstar.
The hesitation to combine the acting categories, as many journalists and industry executives have already pointed out, likely concerns the idea that removing gender-specific categories might create a different problem altogether. Specifically, such a move could allow for the possibility that male performers — who still earn the majority of major roles in Hollywood movies, according to recent studies — will fill most of the spots, leaving even less room for female or nonbinary nominees.
Advocacy group Women and Hollywood cites stats from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film which show that over half of 2021’s top-grossing films (and films watched at home) featured male leading actors, while movies with female leads accounted for a significantly smaller percentage. (Films with both male and female co-leads accounted for the remainder.)
Females also make up only 28% of the overall nominees at this year’s Academy Awards, or the lowest percentage in four years, per a WalletHub study. Without specific “actress” categories, some worry that number could drop even further.
Even GALECA’s own Dorian Awards faced criticism for that very reason upon making the switch to gender-neutral categories.
“Frankly, we saw pushback from women, who were fierce about saying, ‘Women are still having the worst time, it’s so hard for us to get traction, and now we’re losing a category that would champion women,’” recalled John Griffiths, the executive director of GALECA.
Anderson-Minshall and Griffiths said they feel the Dorian Awards maintained an equitable nomination process by increasing outreach, recruiting new members and “adding more seats to the table,” which is something Anderson-Minshall suggests for awards bodies looking to go gender-neutral.
It wouldn’t be unheard of for the Oscars to do something similar. In 2016, following the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, the Academy’s board of governors voted to institute several new policies, including the addition of new seats to “immediately increase diversity” and a years-long recruitment process to ultimately double the number of diverse and female members.
In 2020, the Academy also announced new inclusion standards for Best Picture eligibility, which will require potential nominees to meet a certain number of diversity standards. The policy, however, won’t take effect until the 96th Oscars in 2024.
Judging by the time it takes to implement these initiatives, switching to gender-neutral categories could take quite a while.
One thing that may speed it up? More nonbinary actors in award-worthy roles.
In recent years, GLAAD has been working with film studios and television networks to create a best-practices guidebook for accurate representation of transgender and non-binary characters, seeing as more and more are being depicted on-screen. GLAAD also works to connect these studios with casting agents who can help find the right talent, explained Nick Adams, the director of GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program, in a 2021 blog post outlining the program’s work.
“This type of collaboration between established industry professionals and the transgender community is key to ensuring that trans people can find employment both in front of and behind the camera,” Adams said.