Why could the Berlinale's choice to abolish the Best Actor and Best Actress awards in favor of a Best Performance Award be premature? Let's look at the other cases where “gender neutral” awards have been established, and how they went.

The Berlin International Film Festival (also known as Berlinale) has announced its intention to combine the previous categories that rewarded male and female acting in favor of a neutral nomination for best performance as a protagonist or from not protagonist.

As much as the news caused a sensation, the Berlinale is not the first film-related festival to make such choices. However, the decision to establish a single prize category, regardless of gender, has not always benefited people of all genders. Indeed, in some cases it has proved to be a tool to reward only male artists and to highlight the clear majority of people of the male gender in the film industry. In other cases, however, this choice turned out to be more prudent, but due to the co-presence of different reasons.

In this article, therefore, let's analyze the question a little more in depth. Let's see which gender neutral rewards worked and which ones didn't. And let's see why the Berlinale's decision, however laudable, may still be premature.

The MTV Movie & TV Awards established a gender neutral award ahead of the Berlinale
The MTV Movie & TV Awards established a gender neutral award ahead of the Berlinale

The gender neutral awards before the Berlinale

As we have already mentioned, the Berlinale was not the first film festival to adopt a gender neutral award for the role of best actor / actress. Let's see what other festivals were the forerunners.

MTV Movie & TV Awards: Best Actor category

In 2017 the MTV Movie & TV Awards changed the acting awards related to the genre, replacing them with "Best Actor in a Movie"and "Best Actor in a Show".

However, for the MTV Movie & TV Awards, it was pretty easy to get rid of the genre designations. In fact, the nominations in that case are decided by the producers, even if it is the fans who vote for the winners.

Also, in general the MTV Movie & TV Awards have always seen a certain gender equality in appointments. That year the film category was equally balanced between male and female performers, with three candidates each, while the TV-related category had four women and two men nominated. In theedition of 2018 the nominations included three men and two women for the film award and four women and one man for TV. Last year the nominations went to four women and one man, for both movies and TV.

In essence, the actresses had no negative repercussions, on the contrary, in some cases they have received a greater number of appointments than their male counterparts.

Television Critics Association: the category of Individual Achievements

Another useful example is that of Television Critics Association. This reality every year awards prizes such as "Individual Achievement in Drama"and "Individual Achievement in Comedy”In which they reward the best individual achievement in dramatic and comic performances without distinctions of gender.

The TCA Awards have been handing out acting awards since 1997, when Andre Braugher and David Hyde Pierce won respectively for Homicide (drama) and Frasier (comedy). Since then, 15 of the 20 drama awards awarded have gone to men (Edie Falco, Julianna Margulies, Claire Danes, Tatiana Maslany and Sarah Paulson are the exceptions). The comedy category was slightly more balanced, with just 13 out of 20 men.

There have been signs of improvement in recent years: women have won three of the last five drama and comedy awards. But it remains one disparity hard to ignore.

Kathryn Bigelow, the first and only female director to win an Oscar for Best Director
Kathryn Bigelow, the first and only female director to win an Oscar for Best Director

Gender neutral awards: what happened in the big film festivals?

One of the first thoughts that arose on news of the Berlinale's gender neutral award was “what would the impact be if the Emmy or Academy Awards completely eliminate gender distinctions for acting-related awards? ”.

Well, the Grammys have long since abandoned this distinction (in 2011), but they have been helped by the fact that they distribute awards to artists in 84 different categories. The Oscars, on the other hand, have only four acting awards (protagonist and non-protagonist, male and female), with five nominees for each category.

In an industry still rife with institutionalized sexism, where male actors still dominate the amount of leading roles available, it's easy to imagine gender imbalances accrue from year to year, although the core and support categories have been extended to ten candidates. We have already seen this happen with prizes without distinction of gender.

Best director award: gender neutral, but with how many female winners?

Awards given to Academy Awards such as that for best direction they are a useful example, as awards that have never been gender related.

The first Oscar win in the history of the Academy Awards by one dates back just ten years ago female director in the category of direction. In this sense, Kathryn Bigelow was awarded for T, which that year also won the best film category, set during the war in Iraq. In general, since 1929 only five women have been appointed (nominated, not winners!) for the best director award.

Instead, in the last decade only one of the best director award winning films has had a female lead: The Shape of Water by Guillermo del Toro, with Sally Hawkins. Most of the films of those who won the Best Director award, however, included Green Book, Birdman and the same T, are set in an all-male universe. Therefore, Bigelow remains the only woman to ever win the Best Director award, and she won it for Hurt Locker, a war film that mainly stars men, delves into the male psyche and fits perfectly into a long line of films. consecrated by the Academy on that particular topic.

In fact, in general, Academy Awards tend to prefer films that tell about environments where the male gender is very present or feels like their own. And this year the landscape hasn't changed dramatically. The films that dominate the Oscars are 1917 (war), The Irishman (mafia), Ford vs. Ferrari (cars) e Once upon a time in Hollywood (Tarantino).

Also this year at the Oscars there are no women nominated for the (gender neutral) award for best director

No women have been nominated for Best Director for this year's Academy Awards. Yet there are women who have directed many amazing films in 2019.

Greta Gerwig, of course, directed Little Women, which is an adaptation of the novel of the same name. hustlers is directed by Lorene Scafaria who tells of a group of strippers led by Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), joining forces to implement a plan to rob some of their Wall Street clients. There is The Farewell, directed by Lulu Wang, based on her story. This American Life about a family where their grandmother in China is dying of cancer, but they decide not to tell her, and so they have to go get together and say hello without her knowing why this family reunion. A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood It was directed by Marielle Heller, in which Tom Hanks plays Fred Rogers in the story of a friendship between Rogers and a reporter who interviewed him. It's still Booksmart, a kind of high school comedy that lasts all night, directed by actress Olivia Wilde.

Asia Kate Dillon, non-binary artist
Asia Kate Dillon, non-binary artist

The pros and cons of gender neutral awards, at the Oscars as well as at the Berlinale

The chances of the Oscars or Emmys eliminating gender categories in the near future seem extremely remote. If gender neutral acting awards take hold, they will do so gradually, with smaller festivals, such as the Berlinale, leading the way.

Having separate acting categories has positive effects, as well as negative effects. On the one hand, the "best actor" and "best actress" awards could perpetuate the simplistic idea that male actors are essentially better than their female counterparts. On the other hand, some might argue that gender neutral categories would lead unbalanced nomination lists, as happened to the best director award. By removing a guaranteed space for film artists, it would shed light on Hollywood's deepest systemic problems, including the far fewer “talking roles” for actresses and the scarcity of female directors.

The gender neutral awards for non-binary people

However, the Berlinale's idea of ​​having a gender neutral award can be positive when dealing with people non-binary vying for the title. We have seen this in the case of Asia Kate Dillon, star of the series Orange is the new black and movies like Billions e John Wick, which identifies with the non-binary genre, and which has raised the question on several occasions. In fact, in 2017 Dillon sent a letter to the Academy in which he questioned the gender-specific designations of the Emmy acting categories, as he was uncertain about running for Best Supporting Actor or Best Supporting Actress.

The Academy responded immediately, noting that any artist has a chance to fit into either category for any reason, and assuring Dillon that the Emmys do not investigate such choices in any way. Yet this perspective is still not attractive to many non-binary people, because the forces you to fit into a category, in fact, binary, which does not really represent them.


In conclusion, the gesture of the Berlinale is certainly admirable and progressive. It will definitely turn out to be good for non-binary people in the world of cinema. In fact, although the artists who identify themselves in non-binary genres are the minority, they should also be given the opportunity to participate in competitions like these, without necessarily having to participate by choosing categories in which they would not be represented in any case.

However, it is reasonable to fear that the establishment of a gender neutral award could end up leaving out all those people who do not recognize themselves in the male gender. This is even more true in the event that there is no possibility of having more people awarded or many more categories of awards. In short, there is the possibility that the award for best performance at the Berlinale will turn into a purely male award, like the one for the best director of the Oscars.

However, whatever big festivals decide to do, the rules of the Berlinale change. Criticisms raised, such as Dillon's, suggest that the issue will at least require greater awareness in the coming years.