The Oscars' gendered categories: necessary or antiquated?

Faye Navesey responds to the proposition that the Best Director award should have a category dedicated to women.

Faye Navesey
16th January 2020

Women’s contributions to any sphere of life are often underappreciated and overlooked, whether it’s in Westminster or Hollywood. The nominations for the Oscars only confirmed to most women what we already knew: we simply aren’t taken seriously.

However, the suggestion that nomination categories should be gendered doesn’t tackle the root cause of Hollywood inequality. The problem doesn’t lie with the fact that female creators are not good enough to compete with their male counterparts: but rather, that they are forced to work in an atmosphere which undermines their work.

Honey Boy (2019) director Alma Har’el wrote for Entertainment Weekly, suggesting the adoption of gendered categories for the Best Director award: "Why is suggesting separating the directing category to male and female frowned-upon, while Best Actor and Best Actress is agreeable? Are we so naive to assume we would celebrate actresses as much as we do today if acting categories weren’t separate?"

Oscar winning actress Lupita Nyong'o in Us (2019)

This idea is not inherently flawed: it forces Hollywood to acknowledge actresses and directors, whereas it's more likely they’ll be ignored if they are in mixed categories. However, filmmaking isn’t like sports. Women have the same acting and directing capabilities as men, so the gendered categories are arbitrary methods of allowing Hollywood to give female creators a pat on the head, whilst continuing to only truly celebrate white male actors. Furthermore, if we separate categories then where does that leave talented non-binary actors and directors? We cannot force talented people into categories that don’t suit their identity, and doing so sends a message to aspiring non-binary actors and directors that they don’t ‘belong’ in Hollywood.

Lulu Wang, director of The Farewell (2019)

Instead of relegating women to a separate category, why don’t we simply force people to pay attention to them within the main categories? It would be preferable to make it compulsory for at least one female director and actress to be nominated. Whilst this idea has previously been called patronising and concerns have been raised that this may suggest that the nominees didn’t feel they earned their place. However, I think there are enough incredibly talented women in film that this wouldn’t be a problem. No-one can credibly say that actress Lupita Nyong’o (Us, Black Panther) and director Greta Gerwig (Little Women, Lady Bird) don’t deserve their place in Oscar nominations. More than this though, the male-dominated culture of Hollywood needs to change before women in Hollywood are ever taken seriously. It seems we’ve been aware of this for a while, as every year this debate comes up and is soon forgotten without resolution.

Time's Up was the theme of the 2018 Oscars, where an end to sexual harassment and bias was sought. Yet here we are, two years later, having made very little progress. So, whilst gendered categories are well-intentioned, they fail to grasp the real issue and will fail to make women heard in Hollywood.

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