Several things are happening at once in our culture. And all of it is moving way too fast for most people to keep up with. The truth is that we (on the left, it must be said) have cultivated a climate of fear. That fear infects almost every aspect of the culture that we have dominated since the 1960s. The Baby Boomers really shaped so much of what we began to take for granted as the norm heading out of the 1950s. Journalism, film, books, even science and the sexual revolution – it all sprang from that generation. But now we’re seeing a “fourth turning,” which is a generational shift that is fairly massive in scope and will change this entire country. What we don’t yet know is where everything will land when all is said and done.
You might not be totally aware of it if you aren’t plugged into the daily news cycle. If you watch Fox News you will certainly be aware of the side that is loudly dissenting to the massive cultural revolution on the left. If you watch mainstream news you will see a side that is going along with what they perceive as the demands made upon them. No matter where the line gets moved they scramble to adjust to it so as not to offend any one person, not to marginalize any one person, not to ever be thought of as racist or bigoted in any way, shape or form. That fear is palpable.
What you don’t see much of on the left is any kind of pushback in the mainstream. You see it on the fringes for sure, in Substack essays or podcasts, where people who consider themselves decent lefties speak out against the rigid doctrine suddenly being demanded of everyone across the board to an alarming degree. Most people on the left want to be thought of as good people – that is their motivation. Goodness, virtue is to be maintained at all costs, whether you are an actor or a comedian or an influencer. This has almost completely reversed from the period between the 1960s and the 1980s when it was the conservatives who valued their presumed virtue and the left that was constantly loudly pushing back and complaining. The whole thing has 100% reversed itself.
Every generation needs a previous generation to push back against and for Generation Z they have helicopter parents and boomers who aren’t going to offer them the necessary pushback. If anything, they’re going to be compliant so as not to hurt or offend them. So if all of this was happening, say, with the conservatives in power it would be easy to be, say, Madonna and push back against the established order. But the only pushback being offered is on the right and they have zero power over the established order, either culturally or politically. So the left, at the moment, is allowed to basically do whatever it wants.
Fear means people who would object don’t. Fear means the American Booksellers sending out a desperate apology for supposedly having sent “anti-trans” reading list because it included a book by Abigail Shrier. Activists trying to make sure Shrier’s book is not read nor discussed. The reason this matters to the Oscars is that it’s the same dynamic at work when it comes to the pressure to make the Best Actor and Actress categories “gender-neutral.” After the Gothams did it, the other award shows might be pressured to follow, according to a recent column at Indiewire.
The column, written by Ben Travers and Libby Hill, is quite nuanced. It is definitely written in “Gen-Z” speak, a language not a lot of us have not mastered yet, and even if we did we might not use it. For instance, referring to men as “male-identifying.” That isn’t something this old-timey blogger is ever going to do. I don’t even know if that is something Gen-Z wants to do. I think it is most definitely the going rules for the youth army responsible for policing speech. The idea behind their activism is that even if only 5% of the population identifies as nonbinary or fluid, 100% of the population, or at least those who will be allowed to work in the film industry, at universities, sell books, etc. must go along with their rules.
What I do know, what I feel sure about, is that the general public at large, even Gen-Z, is getting tired of having every area of their cultural experience sucked into the social justice war. I imagine they will simply stop reading articles they figure are “woke,” even if they have good engagement on Twitter. They will stop watching movies they deem as too “woke,” or books or anything. They will spot it immediately and tune it out. I think that’s because people still want to be entertained more than they want to be schooled.
To that end, I’ll just say that 1) the Academy can give itself over completely to the “Church of Social Justice” if it wants to. They might be pressured to do that, or so worried about publicity they can’t avoid it, or simply think that it’s the right thing to do in 2021. It is their establishment and they can do whatever they so choose. I would rather, I think, talk about what I know about gender and the film awards race, based on everything I’ve observed in the past 20 years.
For women, it has been a long time coming to get recognition. This is especially true for black women, and women of color more broadly. Halle Berry is still the only black woman to win Best Actress. While there have been 4 winners in Best Actor, 7 in Supporting Actor, 8 in Supporting Actress, only one in Best Actress. One. In 93 years of Oscar history. That is almost a century.
I know that women have a hard time breaking into the other categories as well. There is a reason the BAFTA insisted upon 50% of their directing nominees this past year be women. Despite the activism, despite the abundance of films directed by women, they simply can’t compare to the films directed by men but for every once in a while. It is by no means a level playing field in any way, shape or form. Women, like non-white, non-male actors, are held to a much higher standard for what kinds of films they CAN make to begin with. The only criticism aimed at men is simply that they are men. But they can and do survive that.
If you have, say, ten gender-neutral categories they will be dominated by men if the voters are being honest. That’s because the majority of the more challenging, fully realized roles are by men. They are more transformative. They are often more challenging. And they have access to much larger share of the human experience. Unfortunately, for so many actors of color they are often caught in the trap where they have to always portray “good” people. The same is not true for their white counterparts.
Most years there is an abundance of Best Actor contenders and if you expand the list men will fill those slots, not women. Unless you say 50% have to be female but then aren’t you simply designating by gender anyway? Why can’t the categories still be divided but be called Best Actor and Non-Binary, Best Actress and Non-binary? Does it make one transphobic or a TERF to say that getting rid of Best Actress erases women who have fought long and hard for recognition in the business and are just starting to make progress?
Probably many generation-Z folks who are going through their own journeys with gender and see them as very fluid and think it is probably out of date to designate them might not be aware of the history of just how hard it has been for women to, say, star in a film that won Best Picture. Before Nomadland, the last Best Picture winner that had a Best Actress winner in it was 2004’s, Million Dollar Baby. Is the idea we just toss all of that and say, ah, it doesn’t matter anymore. Let’s let anyone get nominated, no matter their gender.
But I’m here to tell you the history because I lived it. No category at the Oscars has captivated this website like the Best Actress category. That’s because there is romance in it. There is glamour in it. There is something dramatic about it. Getting rid of that would not only cause the general public to write the Oscars off for good (they’re already almost there) but it might even alienate those who obsess on the Oscars. Who would it hurt? I don’t think it would “hurt” anyone, other than the Academy itself. But it might make the Oscars a lot less fun.
I am on the way out of this business. My day has come and gone. If you want my opinion on the matter, that’s it. Don’t take away one of the things that makes the Oscar great. Don’t take away one of the ways women have found any kind of power in the awards race. Why not add to, rather than take away.