The need for gender-inclusive award categories in Hollywood


Since the first Academy Awards in 1929, the categories for leading or supporting actors have been separated by gender. In a typical year, men vie for the award of best actor, while a woman gets best actress. And while this system has worked for over nearly a century, a growing number of people in the entertainment industry have begun to question whether or not it is still effective. Celebrities and fans alike have begun to shed light on the fact that separating the awards by “male” and “female,” excludes any artists who are non-binary or gender expansive. 

  “I feel like categories were probably initially created to try to make sure everybody coming up to the stage wasn’t all one gender,” BHS freshman Pixel Franklin said. “At the moment, I feel like if it’s just actors and actresses, you’re not really shedding light on anything new.”

In February, a non-binary actor named Justin David Sullivan withdrew from Tony Award consideration for their work on the Broadway show “& Juliet” after being told they had to choose a category to be considered in. “I could not in good faith move forward with denying any part of my identity to conform to a system and structure that does not hold space for people like me,” Sullivan wrote in an Instagram post. They later called for the Tonys to eliminate gender from the nomination system.

Numerous other popular actors, including Janelle Monáe, Elliot Page, and Hugh Jackman have expressed their support of gender-neutral categories. Others say that these categories are divisive and that all artists should be judged against one another, regardless of gender. According to BHS freshman Juniper Hill, “It defeats the purpose of the award if there’s only supposed to be one great actor, but you give two awards because you want to keep it gendered … It’s kind of contradictory.”

Despite the growing support, it seems that the majority of the industry still feels wary about removing gendered categories. Female actresses have also expressed their concern over how male-dominated the nominations and wins would be if the categories were eliminated.

It is an undeniable fact that men have controlled the entertainment industry for decades. Although women have had an awards category of their own, they’ve suffered from massive amounts of mistreatment in their workplace, ranging from wage gaps to harassment. 

“We are living in a male-dominated world and men make up almost all of the movies and TV shows,” BHS freshman Rea Horgan said. “It would be super hard for women specifically to win a category just because they’re so outnumbered.” There’s certainly truth to this sentiment, since as of 2022, only 38.6% of lead actors in films were female. And while there has been effort over the years to increase representation and close the achievement gap between men and women, there is still a significant disparity.

A notable example is the Best Director category for the Oscars. Best Director, a typically individual award, is gender neutral. And in the 96 years of the Academy Awards, a total of seven women have been nominated for Best Director, and only three have ever won. This year alone, there were four male nominees and only one woman. Additionally, many people believed that female director Greta Gerwig was snubbed of a nomination for her work on the Barbie movie. Predictably, the award went to Oppenheimer’s male director Christopher Nolan. 

Some actresses believe that if they were to be judged against male actors, they wouldn’t stand a chance at winning awards because of systemic injustices. 

“Until women and nonbinary performers are afforded as much screen time as the men, it’s not very fair to compare the performances,” actress Rhea Seehorn said during a red carpet interview with the New York Times.

Numerous other actresses echoed concerns during the same interview, explaining that while they weren’t against gender-neutral categories, the current gender-based inequality in Hollywood might make the de-gendering of award categories impractical. “What none of us want to see is a general acting category where it ends up being all-male nominees,” writer and director Sarah Polley said. 

Yet despite the concerns that have been raised, continuing to have gendered categories is no longer a representation of the artistic body in Hollywood. All artists deserve to be recognized and appreciated properly for their contributions. It is necessary for the entertainment industry and award shows to continue to improve equality, and not pretend that the current progress made is sufficient.

“I think in the end, it would push for more equality,” Hill said, “Because we just have to pick some sort of step. We can’t just stay stagnant.”