Last month, Asia Kate Dillon made headlines for challenging the gender-specific Emmy Awards, sending a letter to the Television Academy, questioning the classification of acting categories. This weekend, the “Billions” star is going to present the first-ever non-gendered prize at Sunday’s MTV Movie & TV Awards.
The annual show, which this year will also include television categories, is a perfect platform for Dillon, who sent a letter to the TV Academy just days before MTV announced its award show categories would be non-gender specific, including both actors and actresses in the same pools, which will see the likes of “Beauty and the Beast’s” Emma Watson go head-to-head with “Logan’s” Hugh Jackman.
“The timing certainly was not lost on me. It was pretty incredible,” Dillon says of the MTV Movie & TV Awards’ historic announcement. “I’m so excited, humbled, thrilled — I’m proud, and it feels really right. I’m excited.”
As for the Emmys, Dillon ultimately decided to be submitted in the supporting actor category, telling Variety in early April, “What I learned through my research is that the word ‘actor,’ specifically in reference to those who performed in plays, came about in the late 1500s as a non-gendered word.”
At the time, the TV Academy told Variety, “We are happy with our productive dialogue with Asia based on their very thoughtful letter. The Television Academy celebrates inclusiveness, and as we discussed with Asia, there is no gender requirement for the various performer categories. Asia is free to choose the category they wish to enter.”
While the Emmys don’t appear to be changing their categorization any time soon, Dillon’s letter is certainly starting a thoughtful conversation — and this Sunday, the “Billions” breakout will be right in their element at the MTV Movie & TV Awards…
Since you spoke to Variety about your letter to the TV Academy, how has the reception has been?
Whether it be in person or on social media, [it] has been exciting that the conversation is happening. It isn’t just people from the LGBTQIA community who are excited about it — it’s heterosexual cis-gender people who are excited about it, as well. It feels good to just be a part of the cultural conversation that is clearly happening.
The MTV Movie & TV Awards is your first major award show — is that correct?
Yes it is.
Have you thought about what you’re going to say when you’re up on stage?
I have given it some thought and I think, for now, I’ll keep those thoughts close to my chest.
Now that you’ve started the conversation, do you feel the need to use your platform — whether it be at an award show or on social media — to speak about inequality and inclusiveness?
I do, and I think it’s going to be about finding a balance. The evening is a celebration and I wholeheartedly believe there is a way to do what I do on my social media or in my personal life when it comes to my social justice activism. There’s certainly a way to be celebratory, and be educational and honest and truthful, so I’m looking forward to that. To be presenting the first acting award in history that is based solely on performance, not on sex, nor gender identity is historic. That’s a history that I share not only with my family, friends, and coworkers, but with all the trans, non-binary, gender-nonconforming people — particularly people of color, who have been leading the way for change long before I was born.
Do you think that other shows such as the Emmys and the Oscars should consider following suit?
I think I’m really encouraged because what I’ve seen from my conversations with the Emmys board, the outcome of that conversation was totally positive, and the Academy said we’ve always been about inclusivity. So I think whatever change is coming, I’m excited for it. I feel like culture is moving in that direction, so I’m just excited to see what the outcome is based on the conversations that are happening right now.
You said you were very pleased with the response from the TV Academy, but in your opinion, do you think it would be best for the Emmys to incorporate non-gendered acting categories?
I think that based on my conversation with the Television Academy, I made a decision based on where we’re at now for reasons that run deep into my personal beliefs, and it felt good and like a decision I felt okay with actually making right now. I think ultimately we will find a way to look at performances and give awards that are based neither on gender nor sex. I think what’s interesting based on my conversation with the Academy — “actor” and “actress” to them mean whatever the performer wants it to mean. “Actor” and “actress” don’t have to be gendered or sexed. That’s why I chose the word “actor.” There’s a lot to unpack actually within the language, and that’s why 68 years ago the Television Academy followed suit of the Academy Awards and chose to put “actress” in. There’s a lot to be unpacked, and I’m just excited to be a part of the unpacking.
Having submitted yourself to the actor category, do you think that could help your chances of being nominated, or is that not something that you are thinking about?
It’s actually not something I’m thinking of. I feel really honored to be in a position where I was able to send a letter like the letter I wrote to the Television Academy because of the conversation that I’ve had in my own head for many years, or amongst co-workers. I am grateful to be in the position to have written that letter, to have gotten a response, and to have been a part of a conversation that regardless of whether or not I get a nomination or win — this conversation is going to shift the way that award shows happen from now on. I think it’s just an example of great cosmic cultural timing that this is where culture’s at — it’s happening now. This is the congruence showing itself so beautifully. I’m just excited.