Since the first show in 1929, the Academy have awarded their golden, muscled acting Oscars on the basis of two criteria: acting ability and gender. Let us briefly imagine what Hollywood’s biggest night would look like if this were not the case. Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, Denzel Washington, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling would have been among the nominees in contention for best actor. The few seconds before the announcers open the envelope would have been a visual drumroll, composed of the faces of our most beautiful male and female actors, who, having done the same job, are anticipating the same award.
The imaginary, gender-neutral Oscars ceremony is superior to last night’s Oscars on the basis of equity and entertainment value.
The Oscars are not the Olympics, where men and women understandably compete separately on the basis of biology. There is no reason why a woman cannot compete with a man in an artistic arena. The Oscars are Hollywood’s biggest night and if women were shown competing against men on such a highly visible stage, there would be a huge opportunity to inspire young girls to be unafraid to reach for the same positions men do in the acting world and outside of it.
Removing these gender labels would also be more fair to, and inclusive of, anyone who is gender nonconforming. Award shows of all kinds, including the Oscars, should evaluate the pool of talent on the basis of merit. Questions of identity, whether it be gender, sexual orientation, or race, ought never to factor in.
And collapsing two separate categories for each acting Oscar into one category would dial-up the entertainment value on many points. The increase in competition for these awards would raise stakes and make winning an Oscar even more difficult—and even more meaningful.
Then we could have seen Natalie Portman in “Black Swan” versus Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech” (2010), Cher in “Moonstruck” versus Michael Douglas in “Wall Street” (1987), and Emma Stone in “La La Land” versus Casey Affleck in “Manchester by the Sea” (2016). The keys to both a good awards show and a good film are conflict and stakes, and upping these would guarantee more engaged viewers. Of course, the viewers might still be sitting at home in stretchy sweatpants, but they would be chomping their cheddar popcorn from the edge of their La-Z-Boy.
The only reason the public does not wince at the thought of gender-split acting awards is because we have known it that way for so long. Imagine if the Pulitzer Prize or Nobel Prize in Physics were suddenly broken by gender to “Best Book Written by a Woman,” or “Best Finding by a Woman.” Surely one senses some immediate injustice in that idea, in the idea that the number of X chromosomes one possesses affects one’s ability to craft an alliterative sentence or analyze data. The amount of X chromosomes a person has also does not alter their ability to portray a character with honesty and empathy, and the Oscars should reflect that fact.
Laura Doan is a Plan II and English Sophomore from Fort Worth.