Here’s a blog post I wrote in 2012, just before I left for Prague to go to film school. When I arrived (2013), my way of making friends was to engage a bunch of international students in a debate about why I thought the Best Actor and Best Actress category at the Oscars should be merged. No one agreed with me. But yesterday, (August 5th, 2019), I received a message from one of my fellow students on Facebook. I haven’t spoken to them in six years, but this is what they wrote:
“I just wanted to let you know I think about you once a year when the Oscars roll around because my first impression of you was you making an argument that Acting awards should not be separated by sex and I still think about it to this day.”
Seems like I got my point across somehow. Here’s my initial blog post from 2012, when I was young and fresh and working as an actor (this was before I realized that actors, while getting to play make believe all the time, do not actually get to control the story):
With the Oscar nominations out, I find myself wondering what it means to be an actor. I love acting and want to spend my life doing it—nothing brings me as much joy. But, looking at the list of incredible nominees, I can’t help but wonder what it is exactly that makes the “Actress” so different from the “Actor.” For example, there are no separate categories for “Best Director” and “Best Direct-ress.” They don’t separate cinematographers, costumers, sound designers, editors—or any other category for that matter—by gender excepting that of actors and actresses. And while I realize that these other categories are probably inclusive solely due to the fact that during the first award ceremonies, there were no women contenders for these awards, I can’t stop musing about the ramifications of merging the acting categories into a sex blind award: simply “Best Actor.” Why does this seem so fundamentally…weird? There have always been women actors—“actresses”—in film, so why does it feel counter-intuitive to measure a woman’s performance against a man’s? It’s not as if we are just getting used to seeing women onscreen. Perhaps it is because the actor’s tool is his or her body, and because of the anatomical differences between male and female, we feel the need to judge them separately—not as comparable, but as complimentary. But what are the consequences of placing, to contemplate this past year’s nominations, Meryl Streep’s performance alongside George Clooney’s? Is the work they do so inherently different that we simply cannot put them next to each other?*
Let’s take another line of inquiry. When you study with a great acting master or coach, do they employ different approaches based on gender? They do not—they teach the same methods regardless. Stanislavsky, Meisner, Strasberg, Adler, Batson, Esper… they teach all their students the same technique.
And while one could argue that Streep’s personal method of acting diverges hugely from her male counterparts, but I do not believe that it differs any more than from that of her female contemporaries. In other words, every actor and actress has his or her own method, just as each and every director has a unique way of approaching a project. But we still compare them to each other. The criteria for judging performances/direction are the same whether the actor/director is male or female. So why can’t we compare all the excellent performances? I don’t know.
But to be honest, I can’t decide if this “discrimination” is really important for anyone, or whether it is, in fact, important to me. It’s just something I’m thinking about. And at least there’s a definite upside to these separate categories: more awards for actors.
*George Clooney didn’t win that year, but he was the only name I could remember. I have yet to watch an award show…unless you count the Westminster Dog Show.