×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

It’s Time for the Emmys to Eliminate Gender-Specific Acting Categories (Column)

As TV and storytelling continue to evolve, does it still make sense to silo male and female performers into separate Emmy categories? Splitting up “outstanding actor” and “outstanding actress” awards as if they’re different skill sets seems like an outdated practice — yet combining them, and eliminating half of the key acting Emmys in the process, would likely be a nonstarter in a business hungry for more, rather than fewer, accolades.

But there’s plenty of precedence for ending the gender divide. The Television Critics Assn., which revealed its 2019 award winners last weekend, already combines its acting categories into just two: individual achievement in drama and individual achievement in comedy. 

And the conversation about whether gender-inclusive categories still make sense kicked into high gear in 2017, when MTV undertook several major revamps to its movie awards show. Most noticeably, the cable network added TV to the mix, turning it into the MTV Movie & TV Awards. But it also made waves by dropping gender-specific categories — something it has also started doing with its signature Video Music Awards show.

That year, Emma Watson became the first to win a gender-neutral MTV award for best movie performance, and she praised the decision to merge actor and actress categories into one. “With acting, you put yourself in someone else’s shoes,” she said while accepting her award. “The only distinction should be between each outstanding performance.”

And why not? Great acting is great acting, regardless of gender. It’s taken a long time, but TV is now offering juicy, big lead roles for women — perhaps making the need to distinguish male roles from female roles on awards shows a bit obsolete. 

Indeed, three years in, MTV has been mostly lauded for dropping the distinction between “actor” and “actress.” “After we did it, it seemed like such an easy decision, and it was kind of like a no-brainer,” MTV live events vice president Vanessa Whitewolf told me earlier this year.

Merging the categories also seems appropriate in a world finally accepting the notion that gender itself can be a fluid construct. Two years ago, “Billions” star Asia Kate Dillon, the first gender nonbinary performer to play a nonbinary character on a major TV show, asked the TV Academy to clarify its gender distinctions.

“I’d like to know if in your eyes ‘actor’ and ‘actress’ denote anatomy or identity and why it is necessary to denote either in the first place?” Dillon wrote in a letter to the org. “The reason I’m hoping to engage you in a conversation about this is because if the categories of ‘actor’ and ‘actress’ are in fact supposed to represent ‘best performance by a person who identifies as a woman’ and ‘best performance by a person who identifies as a man’ then there is no room for my identity within that award system binary. Furthermore, if the categories of ‘actor’ and ‘actress’ are meant to denote assigned sex I ask, respectfully, why is that necessary?”

Dillon ultimately entered in the supporting actor category, and although they haven’t been given an Emmy nomination yet, the performer has been nominated as best supporting actor in a drama series for two consecutive years at the Critics’ Choice Awards.

Early concerns about combining the actor and actress categories focused on whether women might be shut out. But if this year’s MTV and TCA nominations are any indication, it’s women who are dominating the competition (perhaps giving male actors some pause). The TCA drama category includes just one male, Billy Porter, up against Amy Adams, Patricia Arquette, Christine Baranski, Michelle Williams and Jodie Comer; in comedy, Bill Hader is the lone male up against Pamela Adlon, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Natasha Lyonne, Catherine O’Hara and Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

As has been pointed out by others, awards such as the Pulitzer and the Nobel aren’t distinguished by gender. And in Hollywood, craft awards aren’t separated that way. Even the Emmys don’t sort certain performance categories, including reality/competition host and character voiceover, in that manner. In an industry still lagging in pay parity and equal representation behind the lens, stripping the gender classifications from performance categories would send a strong message to all of Hollywood. 

More TV

  • MAKING IT -- Season: 1 --

    TV News Roundup: NBC Announces 'Making It' Season 2 Premiere Date

    In today’s TV news roundup, NBC announced the “Making It” Season 2 premiere date and HBO Max greenlit a new docuseries from Brad Goreski and Gary Janetti. DATES Hosts Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman will return with the second season of “Making It” on NBC Dec. 2. After the show’s holiday season premiere, the show [...]

  • Luis Fonsi Erika Ender Latin Grammys

    The Second Latin Explosion: How 'Despacito' Ushered in a New Generation of Stars

    Music is an ever-evolving art, and for the Latin Recording Academy, that’s meant riding multiple waves of attention. The most recent arrived with the stratospheric success of “Despacito,” which kicked off a second Latin Explosion with full force in 2017. The Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee hit, later featuring verses by Justin Bieber, made Latin [...]

  • TV Review: 'Catherine the Great' Starring

    TV Review: 'Catherine the Great' Starring Helen Mirren

    For some, “Dame Helen Mirren playing the Catherine the Great” is all the convincing they’ll need to watch this new biographical limited series, which is perfectly understandable. The casting of Mirren in the role, which follows the Russian empress in the embattled latter years of her life, is a smart choice that proves its worth [...]

  • Ricky Martin Celia Cruz Gloria Estefan

    From Idea to Legacy: Latin Grammy Awards Mark 20 Years of Global Recognition

    The idea of creating a separate organization to honor the diversity of Latin music was a discussion that took place for years before it actually happened, but an event driven by one of pop music’s most important crossover artists solidified it. During the 41st Grammy Awards ceremony, a young Ricky Martin was scheduled to perform [...]

  • Science Fair

    Disney Plus Fleshes Out Nonfiction Slate, Including 'Howard,' 'Science Fair,' Mickey Mouse Docu

    Disney Plus further fleshed out its nonfiction content slate at an International Documentary Association showcase event Friday, as the streamer, preparing for its Nov. 12 launch, continues to flesh out its programming strategy. Among the announcements: The streamer has acquired the global distribution rights to “Howard,” the Don Hahn-directed documentary about “Aladdin” and “Beauty and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content