Organizers of the SAG Awards will not act in the near future on calls to abolish gender-specific categories.
In a letter published this month by Variety, “Billions” star Asia Kate Dillon wrote that the SAG Awards categories need to change because they “erase non-binary identities by limiting performers to identifying as male or female / man or womxn,” and “serve as an endorsement of the gender binary at large.” In its response to Dillon, which the actor shared with Variety Monday, the SAG Awards Committee did acknowledge that “the work is by no means done” when it comes to inclusivity, but indicated that the categories will remain the same for this year’s awards due to a “larger conversation” being needed before making the change.
The committee also outlined its view that the request to move to one non gender-specific category “raises significant concerns in terms of gender parity as well as racial and ethnic diversity.”
Dillon drafted their own response (shared below with the committee’s), in which they said they are “disappointed to learn” that the SAG Awards will not be abolishing gender-specific categories ahead of the 2021 ceremony in January, and questioned the committee’s logic that “having female and male acting categories has done anything to ensure racial and ethnic diversity.”
The “Orange is the New Black” alum was initially asked to take part in the SAG Awards’ motion picture nominating committee, but has now officially declined that offer due to the acting categories’ “current exclusionary form.”
Read both the SAG Awards’ response and Dillon’s second letter below.
SAG Awards Committee’s response to Asia Kate Dillon’s letter:
SAG-AFTRA and the SAG Awards have a long history of championing communities that lack representation within our industry. We continue to strive to be as inclusive as possible and the work is by no means done.
The suggestion to go to one category raises significant concerns in terms of gender parity as well as racial and ethnic diversity. However, this is a larger conversation we are continuing to explore, and we’ll be reaching out to you for a discussion with the SAG Awards.
As you know, our nominating committee has been selected and notified and the 27th SAG Awards season is underway. We would welcome your participation on the Nominating Committee, however, we respect your position should you choose to decline this year.
SAG Awards Committee
Asia Kate Dillon’s reply to the committee’s response:
Dear Kathy and the SAG Awards Committee:
Thank you for your response. I’m glad to hear that you strive to be as inclusive as possible and that you agree the work is by no means done. I am also heartened by your acknowledgement that this is a larger conversation you’re willing to have. I share your significant concern for “gender parity as well as racial and ethnic diversity” at the SAG Awards. My initial letter was inspired by those concerns, and I am disappointed to learn that you are not prepared to make changes for the upcoming 27th SAG Awards, slated for January 24, 2021.
Given our mutual concern for gender parity, I would hope we might also share a goal of creating acting categories that are inclusive of all sexes and genders identities. There are at least 64 known gender identities and at least five known biological sexes.* Whether you are using the words in reference to assigned sex at birth or to gender identity, dividing your acting categories into female and male is, while well-intentioned, exclusionary and therefore discriminatory. Not all 160,000 SAG members identify as female or male, and there is not now, nor has there ever been, a way to acknowledge these performers at the SAG Awards.
Now on to racial and ethnic diversity. To be honest, I struggle to understand how having female and male acting categories has done anything to ensure racial and ethnic diversity. As the charts below demonstrate, since their inception in 1995, the SAG Awards’ nominees for all individual acting awards have been 88% white, while only 12% of nominees have been BIPOC. BIPOC women have fared worse than BIPOC men. Yes, the overall trend has been toward increased diversity, yet the reality is that the SAG Awards remain overwhelmingly white.
I don’t have all of the answers; all I can do is expose the problems and commit to working toward their solutions. I continue to believe that abolishing gendered acting categories, in tandem with putting in place new regulations to ensure a significant increase of BIPOC nominees, is a key part of the solution.** Ultimately, this will guarantee recognition of a much broader swath of work created by BIPOC of varying sexes and gender identities.
In closing, I decline participation as a judge of the acting categories in their current exclusionary form, but I look forward to our continued conversation.
In Love and Solidarity,
Asia Kate Dillon
* Taken from Ashlee Marie Preston’s Instagram video on 6.14.2020.
** If you also support abolishing the gendered acting categories and putting in place new regulations to ensure a significant increase of BIPOC nominees for the 27th Annual SAG Awards and all subsequent SAG Awards, please visit: https://bit.ly/SAG-Outstanding-Acting-Petition.