Why, in 2024, Do Award Shows Still Have Gendered Acting Categories?

2023 should have been Liv Hewson’s year. The 27-year-old actor quickly became a fan favorite on the Showtime series Yellowjackets, playing the tough-as-nails, secretly soft-hearted queer soccer goalie Van Palmer to perfection. But when Emmys season rolled around, a long-standing issue with the traditionally gendered award-show format reared its head again: Hewson, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, ultimately chose not to submit themself for consideration. Hewson told Variety, “There’s not a place for me in the acting categories. It would be inaccurate for me to submit myself as an actress. It neither makes sense for me to be lumped in with the boys. It’s quite straightforward and not that loaded. I can’t submit myself for this because there’s no space for me.”

Hewson belongs to a spate of nonbinary and gender-nonconforming actors who have found themselves at a crossroads during awards season, torn between receiving industry recognition for their work and being seen as their authentic selves. Of course, nonbinary stars are not a monolith, and, accordingly, different performers have found different ways to navigate the gender segregation of award shows: The Last of Us star Bella Ramsay chooses to compete in female acting categories despite “being aware that it’s not ideal.” The Crown’s Emma Corrin noted in 2022 that they “don’t think the categories are inclusive enough at the moment,” and Billions’s Asia Kate Dillon—the first nonbinary actor to be cast as a nonbinary character in a series regular role—first put out the call to take gender out of the award-show equation with an open letter to the Television Academy in 2017.

There are more nonbinary and gender-nonconforming actors on TV and in film than ever before, from Pose star Indya Moore to And Just Like That… scene-stealer Sara Ramirez to 2024 best-actress nominee Lily Gladstone (who uses she/they pronouns and has described themself as “middle-gendered”)—so why are award shows like the upcoming Oscars still clinging to a format that forces honorees to essentially pick a gender and stick with it? As anti-trans legislation advances in dozens of US states and trans youths like Nex Benedict are targeted for their gender identity, it’s hard not to feel like the award-show circuit is long overdue for a change of approach. 

Granted, making the shift from “best actor/actress” categories to a less gendered iteration would be a challenge for the Academy, a body that isn’t exactly known for its emphasis on diversity. It took the explosion of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag in 2015 for the Oscars to even begin to reckon with their long history of excluding and tokenizing Black actors and artists, and straight, cis performers are still far more likely than their LGBTQ+ peers to be recognized (indeed, even for playing queer roles). Yet doesn’t an institution that still dictates much of what’s considered “the best” in the film industry have an obligation to at least attempt to reflect the strides made by the LGBTQ+ (and, more specifically, nonbinary and trans) communities? And anyway, at the Oscars, as at other award shows, none of the non-acting categories—for best director or editing or costume design or original song, —are divided the same way.

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