The San Sebastian Festival Eliminates The Gender Division In Acting Awards
The feeling of witnessing a momentous change in the world of cinema is strange, but it has assailed us relentlessly for a year. Now, as if the Copernican twists in distribution and exhibition that the pandemic has caused were not enough, we are faced with another tide whose consequences are unpredictable: the disappearance of genre categories in film and TV awards.
The San Sebastian Festival has just joined this trend today, announcing the disappearance of its Silver Shells for best actor and best actress. Starting in 2021, these two categories will be replaced by prizes for the best leading and supporting performance.
Thus, the San Sebastian contest participates in a trend that affects the most important awards in the audiovisual world. To a greater or lesser extent, the Berlin Film Festival, the Emmys and the BAFTAs, among others, have taken a stand on claims of trophies that allow actors, actresses, and non-binary gender people to compete on an equal footing.
But, if we want to see the true origin of this trend, we must go back to May 2017, the moment in which awards not precisely estimated by critics broke the rules by adopting it. A track? Well, to get an idea, they are the same awards that include the legendary category for Best Kiss.
The MTVs set the trend
Four years ago, at the height of the ‘Tumblr generation’ and with the Me Too incubating in Hollywood, the MTV Movie & TV Awards made history by removing the gender distinction from its dramatic categories.
In this way, Daniel Kaluuya (Let me out), Taraji P. Henson (Hidden figures) and an Emma Watson who ended up holding up the statuette for Beauty and the Beast appeared for the first time in the same list of nominees. Likewise, Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things) beat her colleagues Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Walking Dead) in the television category.
Emma Watson, at the 2017 MTV Awards gala.Emma Watson, at the 2017 MTV Awards gala.gtres
“Our public does not see dividing lines between men and women, so we said to ourselves: ‘We are going to eliminate them,” said Chris McCarthy, president of the network at the time. And while this decision was hailed by media such as the New York Times or The Verge , there were those who considered it a bad idea. Not necessarily from conservative ranks, anyway.
For example, activist Melissa Silverstein (of the Women in Hollywood website ) pointed out that gender disparity in Hollywood could hurt nominees who compete alongside men. I was right? It may be too early to say, but we can refer back to the track record of subsequent years.
While the cinematographic category has awarded a male (Chadwick Boseman, winner in 2018 and 2020) and a female (Lady Gaga, in 2019), its television counterpart has gone only to women: Millie Bobby Brown, who won for the second time in 2018, Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale, 2019) and Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch and Vision, 2020).
The Berlinale follows the pattern
The MTV awards decision could be easy to underestimate. At the end of the day, we are talking about trophies that point to an adolescent target and to whom ‘respectable’ names rarely appear. But things change when one of the most important Category A festivals decides to follow those steps.
We are talking about the Berlin Festival, which modified its record in 2020 according to the same parameters used by San Sebastián. That is, substituting its Silver Bears for best actor and best actress by categories dedicated to the main and supporting performances. “We believe it is a sign of a more gender-sensitive consciousness in the film industry,” said the festival management at the time.
As always, it is too early to appreciate the long-term effects of this novelty in the record of Berlin, but we can say that the first winners of the new categories were the German Maren Eggert and the Swedish Lilla Kizlinger.
It remains to be seen if this new attitude towards gender issues in cinema also translates into a greater female presence among the winners of the Silver Bear for best director. Also, and above all, in the access of films directed by women to the highest category of the contest, the Golden Bear.
But, having said that, Berlin’s attitude is most progressive when compared to that of the other two major European festivals: Venice and Cannes. Neither the Italian pageant nor the French pageant have made any move in this regard: in fact, the latter has earned a lot of money due to the very low presence of women in this year’s edition.
Emmy and BAFTA: in no man’s land
While Cannes and Venice are not aware of this earthquake, other film awards outside the festival circuit are moving their tab … or, at least, receive stings that urge them to do so.
In the first case, we have the Emmys. The US television trophies have announced that their categories will remain the same, but that it will give candidates the option not to be alluded to because of their gender. “Now, the nominees and winners of each dramatic category entitled ‘Actor’ or ‘Actress’ will be able to request that the term ‘interpreter’ appear on their certificate or statuette,” says their statement.
The Hollywood Reporter , source of the news, points out that the message from the Academy of Film and Television is confusing. In addition, the measure is a merely cosmetic act that eludes the crux of the matter: the right of actresses to compete on the same ground as their male colleagues, and that of non-binary gender people not to be pigeonholed into categories with the same that are not identified.
An example of the latter is given by the BAFTAs, who faced this situation in their 2017 edition. It was then that Mae Martin, a non-binary gender interpreter (uses the pronouns “ella” and “elle”), thanked him. the British Academy its nomination for Feel Good… adding the postscript “gender is a construct”.
Martin’s gesture did not go beyond being an individual claim, but it was added to already existing protests about the lack of inclusivity in the BAFTAs … and also about the tendency of these awards to forget about actresses once they are over 40 In May this year, a study showed that the median age of award nominees has dropped from 52 to 32 years in the past two decades.
But what about the Oscars?
As we have seen, the elimination of categories by gender is not only due to reasonable aspirations, but also highlights endemic flaws in the film industry. And, while the awards that we have already mentioned face the question, or avoid it, there are others that do not even consider it.
So far, trophies like the Oscars, the Goya or the César French have not spoken to respect. Which can mean so much that they prefer to ignore the signs of the times or that they embrace that beautiful saying that says “there is no greater contempt than not appreciating”.
However, if this current is prolonged in time, even the biggest behemoths in the industry will be forced to react to it. And when they are at it, they could ponder other issues as well, such as the difficulty for women and non-binary people to qualify for awards as directors or in technical categories. After all, once the first step is taken, the others become easier.