Would you watch a gender-neutral Oscars?

Posted at 1:24 PM Feb 18, 2010

By Andrea Grimes


Today on NPR.com, Bob Mondello wonders if we should make the Oscars gender-neutral. As in, should we put men and women on the same emotive playing field in the acting categories?

Nobody separates best director from best directress (directrix?), or best editor from best editress, so why best actor and best actress? Combine them, and let the best "performer" win.

Seriously. Colin Firth versus George Clooney isn't half as intriguing a match-up as the brawl of-the-drawls you'd get if The Blind Side's Sandra Bullock were allowed to compete with Crazy Heart's Jeff Bridges. Imagine Meryl Streep's Julia Child going up against Morgan Freeman's Nelson Mandela -- now that'd be a contest.

The answer to his question (yes) seems a little obvious to me, but I'm not exactly what you'd call a movie buff. (Give me good television, or give me death!) I feel the same way about the Oscars as I do about Olympic curling--I'm not all that interested, but all the same, I can't really think of the point of separating male and female competitors. Mondello, however, predicts some resistance to his plea:

Yeah, yeah, I can just hear the objections to combining categories: Men get all the roles; they're higher paid; their pictures have bigger budgets. Well, let me concede most of that, but also let me note that these are new developments.

The academy's original logic for separating the acting awards by gender was probably that if they hadn't done so in Oscar's early years -- the 1920s and '30s -- the men would've watched as Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo walked off with all the trophies. Take 1935: It was such a good year for the likes of Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Merle Oberon and Claudette Colbert that the academy had to add a sixth slot in the best actress category.

I mean, I'm going to take Mondello's word for it because, again, movies are not my thing. Mondello adds that the playing field has certainly shifted in favor of dudes, but also that they don't often get to play hyper-emo, challenging roles (ahemm, women's roles), and apparently those are the ones that win Oscars. Which I guess would make it overall more difficult for men, if they get fewer of those roles and the ladies get a bunch of them. Or something. Ugh, somebody who's been to a theater more than twice in the past year, help me out, here.

In the end, Mondello says there's no way, for example, any male nominee could compete with Mo'Nique's turn in Precious--one of the only Oscar-contending films I saw this year. (Blame it on fellow Doll Susan. We thought we'd have a lady-bonding night out. Instead, we just had to get hammered at three different bars to get Precious' story out of our minds.)

And so heartily I say: go Mo'Nique!


LeeboZeebo said:

I'm actually the complete opposite: I don't even have cable or rabbit ears in my house because I can rarely invest myself in any television program, but the world of film is something I get lost in. That said, I not only agree with Mondello, but have agreed with the sentiment for as long as I've been aware of the ludicrousness of gender lines.

Spark. said:

Wouldn't this also challenge writers to re-address their gender norm writing? The award would be more competitive and therefore more meaningful. This would actually put art more prominently back into popular film which could really do with it (in my opinion, sorry if yours differs.) All in the for category.

Jenny said:

There is no difference between women's acting and men's acting, but I still like having two categories simply because it means more people get recognized. Two winners are better than one.

Jill aka The Nerdy Bird said:

Wow, I can't believe this has never crossed my mind. The whole, one directing category versus gender performances. Sounds like a no-brainer but like Jeremy says, it's nicer for two people to get recognized. Maybe "Best Acting" and REALLY Good Acting" categories instead. :)

Motivational Smart Ass said:

Definitely some food for thought, and one of those "yeah, I guess it should be obvious" things once you think about it.

Maybe they good combine male and female but separate it out into "best acting in a drama" and "best acting in a comedy" kinda like the Golden Globes. Then some of the great comedic actors could start getting recognized (without resorting to starring in sappy dramas just so they can get the nom)

Andrea said:

I think you're right, MSA, dividing it up into styles of films rather than gender of actors is probably a much more fair way of doing it, and then we could still honor a similar amount of actors.

Elixir said:

The reason Curling is spit into male and female categories is because men (generally) have a far greater inclination to upper-body strength. This comes in handy when throwing 40-pound slabs of granite with any kind of precision. If you're a curling fan, you can see the end result of the sexual dimorphism in the way they game is played at the upper echelons of each gender's "league". The men's teams have a faster-paced, takeout-driven style because it plays to their physical strengths. The skills and degree of athleticism are equal across genders, but the way it gets expressed differs. Of course, you'd have to be a curling fan to notice any of this...

Steve said:

I have no problems with the Oscars doing "Best Performance by a Woman" or "Best Performance by a Man", but I do have a problem with MTV doing "Best Video by a Man", then "Best Video by a Woman", then "Best Video of the Year" going to someone other than the person who won either of the first two categories.

Not to defend Kanye West at all, because he was a jerk to interrupt Taylor Swift's speech when she won "Best Video by a Woman", but how can Beyonce win "Best Video of the Year" and not also get "Best Video by a Woman"? Is she not a woman?

If the Oscars want to have a "Best Performer of the Year", then they need to drop the Men/Women categories, too. If they want to keep the Men/Women categories and then give the award for "Best Performer Period" to one of those two, that's cool, too.

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