#FilmFriday: Must acting awards stay gender-specific?
MANILA, Philippines - Remember the 1990s TV show “Ally McBeal,” whose female and male lead characters had to use the same, if spacious, restroom at any given time?
That eyebrow-raising detail comes to mind given that some Academy Awards observers have raised a question to this effect: Is it possible to do away with separate Best Actor and Best Actress awards and instead hand out a single, non-gender-conscious prize for, say, Best Acting?
In other words, like “Ally McBeal’s” wee-wee room, can acting awards be unisex?
It’s not such a man’s man’s man’s world anymore
Since their very inception, the acting honors from the likes of the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes — as well as the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences or Famas Awards and the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino’s Gawad Urian, among others — have been gender-specific.
Women and men get separate shots at bringing home one of those coveted statuettes as lead or supporting players in their respective movies, unlike in the other categories — Best Director, Best Screenplay, et cetera — where the races are less particular.
Still, we are in supposedly gender-neutral times — an era that has witnessed the death of old-fashioned commuter chivalry, with able-bodied men staying seated and pretending to nap rather than giving up their bus or train seat to a standing lady.
General population statistics aside, the world of work has of course seen increases in the number of women taking leadership and other positions.
And we are long past the period when males enjoyed far more societal rights than females — though, touché, the times are still not without crimes by men against women.
(By a more casual comparison, Time magazine started settling on the any-sex title of “Person of the Year” for its annual recognition only in 1999, after 7 decades of alternating between “Man of the Year” and “Woman of the Year.”)
In terms of recognitions of exemplary work, there are indeed awards galore that do not distinguish between ladies and gentlemen, such as the various Nobel Prizes and Pulitzer Prizes.
Then again, none of those coveted accolades are in tribute for emotive work in front of film followers or televiewers [such as the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and Golden Globe Awards] or theatergoers (e.g., the Antoinette Perry Awards for Excellence in Theatre, namely the Tony Awards).
That, in the end, is why acting awards are and remain separate for women and us men.
The future could be fascinating
Admittedly, the “Oscar,” a.k.a. the Academy Awards statuette, and the “Actor,” the SAG Awards’ own trophy, are not only in the shape of a man but also have those manly nicknames — notwithstanding the SAG’s supposed generic use of the A word. (The Tony award, for its part, is named after the aforesaid Antoinette Perry, she who cofounded the American Theatre Wing.)
And for all of the world’s cultural progressiveness, industries such as cinema still tend to be boys’ clubs, with women having lesser opportunities for on-cam or even off-cam work than men.
As Oscar awardee and Best Actress nominee Sally Field commented in an Associated Press article, “[Actresses] should be in their own category because… they face their own specific kind of difficulties in this business that actors, bless their hearts, don’t face.”
The business side of filmmaking notwithstanding, there is simply no denying that men and women are different — anatomically, psychologically, emotionally — and such dissimilarities are essential to onscreen (and onstage) work.
It is this distinction that makes it difficult for, say, Oscar nominee Naomi Watts to switch roles with Ewan McGregor in The Impossible, even if we overlook the specific kasarian of their respective characters. That is, there is a large cinematic difference between a damsel in distress and a man in peril, or between a desperate man and a woman in despair.
(Action movies are another matter, as the likes of Kate Beckinsale, Milla Jovovich et al. might chirp, but that’s for another discussion.)
Theater artist Jojo Tagudin, a fellow movie addict who used to be with the Philippine Educational Theatre Association (PETA), opines that “maybe until more roles are written for women and more women directors get recognized, there can’t be non-gender-classified acting award categories.”
Let’s take that a step further and imagine an interesting notion: that humanity, or at least the acting world, would have blurred the gender lines enough that there would be zero distinction between male and female actors’ performances, no matter the characters they play.
Someday, there might even be more of the likes of unique acting gigs such as Linda Hunt’s Supporting Actress Oscar-winning turn as a foreign correspondent named Billy in “The Year of Living Dangerously” and John Lithgow’s Supporting Actor Oscar-nominated bit in “The World According to Garp,” as a transsexual former football player named Roberta.
Heck, let’s envision a distant time when male and female actors can readily swap roles, with an older Jessica Chastain excelling in a Robert De Niro-worthy role or the future counterpart of Daniel Day-Lewis turning heads in a part that would be a cinch for Meryl Streep.
Silly, perhaps? If that ultimately won’t be a possibility, it might at least (dibs alert!) make for an interesting movie. - Rappler.com