MTV has decided to drop gender-specific categories for its awards to go gender-neutral. The music network revealed its nominations for MTV Movie and TV Awards this week. Now we will see Actor Hugh Jackman competing with Actress Emma Watson for the Best Actor award.

MTV’s categories have always been a little out of the usual, for example, it includes awards for the WTF Moment or the best kiss. However, this gender-neutral move took place not to make non-binary talents feel uncomfortable and forced to identify with something they are not. The show airs on Sunday, May 7, at 8 p.m. on MTV.

Adam Devine
The MTV Movie & TV Awards will be hosted by “Workaholics” star Adam DeVine. Image credit: Mark Davis Staff.

“This audience actually doesn’t see male-female dividing lines, so we said, ‘Let’s take that down.’ They don’t see lines between theatrical releases and television — they just see it as great content — so let’s take that down,” said MTV President Chis McCarthy. “And they don’t really care whether it’s scripted, reality or a theatrical release. They just want to celebrate great content.”

A controversial switch of categorization

MTV Awards are mostly intended for a young crowd, giving cool and different awards. However, this year’s nominations show a different type of award categorization with no gender. Therefore, instead of dividing acting awards with Best Actor and Best Actress categories, there will be a single category for both male and female actors in the movie and TV awards.

The nominees for Best Actor in a movie include Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures), James McAvoy (Split), Hugh Jackman (Logan) and Emma Watson (Beauty and the Beast). There are 6 nominees, four men and two women competing for the same award.

Emma Watson as Belle. Image credit: Walt Disney Studios/ET Online

This change might have been inspired by the Grammy Awards, which decided to eliminate gender-specific categories for singers, collaborations, and groups in 2011.

It could be said that this might be a progressive and positive change given the impact these shows have in society. However, Gabriel Rossman, a professor of sociology at UCLA, said that this kind of categories lead to a male-dominated award –which in effect happened with the Best Actor category– and therefore it would lead to a cultural backlash.

Women only received 28.7 percent of speaking roles in 109 analyzed films of 2014. That breaks down to 2.5 male speaking roles for every one female role, according to a 2016 report on diversity in the entertainment industry carried by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

There was no room for non-binary talents

The change to non-gender-specific categories comes at the same time as non-binary actor Asia Kate Dillon wrote a letter to the Television Academy asking if the Emmy Awards’ categories took into consideration the person’s sex or the gender identity. Her inquiry arose after she was asked by Showtime if she wanted to be considered for the Best Supporting Actor or Best Supporting Actress category due to her performance on the Billions series.

Asia Kate Dillon
Billions star Asia Kate Dillon. Image credit: The Advocate.

“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? 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?” wrote Asia Kate Dillon.

Dillon soon discovered that the Television Academy didn’t have specific requirements regarding gender identity. Dillon explained that the Academy said that she could pick the category she felt comfortable with. Therefore Dillon ended up choosing The Best Supporting Actor because ‘actor’ is actually meant to be a non-gendered category.

Consequently, MTV eliminated the binary category so artists didn’t feel like they didn’t fit completely into either of the categories. The issue had not been discussed before because no actor, outside the gender binary, had run for a major award. However, as time changes there should be more room for this discussion. Then, should other Award shows follow MTV’s example?

Rossman: You could easily imagine an #OscarsSoMale hashtag on Twitter

Melissa Silverstein, the founder and editor of Women and Hollywood –which is a website advocated to promote gender equality in films– said that eliminating the division in the acting categories would probably lead to other equality issues. She said that she supports more inclusive categories but this change might severely affect female nominees in the future. According to Silverstein, women are already underrepresented in many categories. For example, only 20% of the non-acting Oscar nominees were women this year. Therefore by removing this gender identification from categories, it would be harder for women to be nominated.

According to Silverstein, women are already underrepresented in many categories. For example, this year only 20 percent of the non-acting Oscar nominees were women. Therefore by removing this gender identification from categories, it would be harder for women to be nominated.

Source: Slash Films