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Gender neutral won't equal equality

The entertainment industry – who at one time was seen as the epitome of liberal attitudes – has been struggling to make changes.  In 2015, Jennifer Lawrence published an open letter about the wage gap for women in Hollywood and the floodgates opened.  In 2016, the Academy Awards were condemned for nominating only white actors – for the second year in a row.

Today, there’s still a lot of work to do to create more equality and diversity in entertainment.  After all, Hollywood is nearly a century old.  It’s going to take more than a few TV interviews and editorials to transform such an institution.

But recently, the Berlin Film Festival announced a huge change to its award competition.  This winter, instead of having a lead female and a lead male prize, the competition will be gender-neutral.  In a truly “everyone is treated equally” mentality, male, female, transgender, non-binary, gender-neutral or however-they-define-themselves actors will be competing together.

And if we’re lucky, North America will totally ignore this.  The numbers don’t support equality.

Women, transgender, and non-white roles make up a very small part of entertainment productions.  In 2018, only nine percent of movies had gender-balanced casts.  Just 33% of speaking characters were women and ten percent of movies had a woman of colour in a lead role.  Meanwhile, of the top 100 grossing movies, 30% had no black, 50% had no Asian, and 70% has no Latina women.

Minority women were also four times more likely to be sexualized and nude than men.  Not exactly the character qualities that lead to an award nomination.  Okay, it has happened.  In 1928, Janet Gaynor won the first Academy Award for best actress for her role as a prostitute.  Sadly, after about a dozen more similar wins over the decades (all white), columnists have joked that the best way for a woman to win an Oscar is to play a hooker.

Ironically, I haven’t found any male actors who can claim the same.  (In an interesting twist, however, I discovered that French star, Gérard Depardieu, was a male escort before becoming an actor.)

So despite representing 50% of the population, women are making up only a third of the lead roles.  Non-white are even rarer.  And last year, not a single transgender actor was cast in a major film.

This means that if awards shows start combining the gender categories before the entertainment industry fixes this disparity, women and transgender actors will likely see even less representation and recognition during awards season. And those awards are often catalysts for bigger and better roles.  Not to mention paycheques.

So while I’m sure some super-woke guy in charge of the Berlin Film Festival man-splained his idea to a roomful of other men in a way that made it sound like a move toward equality, this gender-neutral award is a bad idea.

Then again, so is their in-person film festival despite travel constraints and the COVID epidemic.  There’s a time and a place boys.  And this ain’t it.