Monday | April 20, 2015
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Are Hollywood awards by gender out of touch?

<p>Associated Press</p><p>Gloria Steinem, left, and Marlo Thomas, from the program “Makers: Women Who Make America,” pose together for a portrait during the PBS Winter TCA Tour at the Langham Huntington Hotel, in Pasadena, Calif.</p><p>Associated Press</p><p>Anne Hathaway poses with the award for best performance by an actress in a supporting role in a motion picture in “Les Miserables” backstage at the 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif.</p>

By LYNN ELBER

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Do Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway and Helen Mirren really need a category just for women — a singular kind of affirmative action — to snare one of Hollywood’s favorite accessories, an Oscar, Emmy or Screen Actors Guild trophy?

In a society tilting steadily toward gender neutrality, the separate-but-equal awards that divide actors into one camp and actresses into another have the whiff of a moldy anachronism.

In contests of intellect or artistry, should gender ever matter?

“It’s not like it’s upper body strength,” Gloria Steinem dryly observed of the requirements of acting.

The separate labeling of male and female performers is losing favor in the industry. Actresses often swat the distinction away by calling themselves “actors,” standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts.

“At the end of the day, we’re all storytellers, and I don’t think when we’re defining a character that the gender is the major defining factor,” said Mark Andrews, writer-director of the animated film “Brave.”

That may be progress in theory for performers but not in practice, according to Sally Field, a SAG and Oscar best supporting actress nominee for “Lincoln.”

“If you do that you won’t see any actresses up there (on stage) at all,” she said. “The percentage of roles is so weighted toward actors. That’s the way it’s always been.”

Exactly, concurred Naomi Watts, “The Impossible” best actress SAG and Academy Award nominee.

“There’s so much competition in life and I do think we are different,” she said. “Yes, we should be able to have the same things as much as possible … (but) life’s a battle already and there’s so many great roles written for men. Women are definitely at a disadvantage when it comes to volume.”

Rapper Nicki Minaj, who’s considering launching an acting career, has a pragmatic take on the issue.

“You see all those divas in the audience looking so pretty, and they all want to beat each other out,” she said. “It’s entertainment.”

Hathaway, in the running for SAG and Oscar supporting actress honors for “Les Miserables,” considers the gender split “an awesome question worthy of an awesome debate.”

“Can I conceive of a world where performance becomes a genderless concept? Absolutely. Do I think it’s going to happen anytime soon? No,” she said.

As Fields pointed out, the bedrock challenge is that women get fewer substantive roles than men. Ironically, that’s obscured by the artificial parity on stage each year at awards shows. Five women compete, five men compete, two winners are crowned.

So what’s the problem? A quick numbers check makes it clear: Females comprised about a third of the characters in the 100 top-grossing films in 2011, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

This, despite the fact women make up slightly more than half of the U.S. population and, according to the center’s previous research, the finding isn’t an anomaly.

In this context, feminist leader Steinem sees legitimate reason to retain separate acting awards. When two unequal groups are combined it’s the less-powerful one that loses, she said, as when 20th-century U.S. school desegregation lead to mass layoffs of black principals and administrators.

Tom O’Neil, editor of the Gold Derby awards prediction site, said strong forces are arrayed against any such change in Hollywood.

Awards shows routinely try to add celebrity-driven categories, not drop them, to increase a show’s “glamor and glitz” quotient, he said, as well as mask the industry’s unequal treatment of women.

“It’s criminal,” he said, bluntly.

In the behind-the-scenes film and TV categories in which the sexes compete, women rarely make it on stage at awards ceremonies. The Oscars started in 1929, but it wasn’t until 2010 that the first woman, Kathryn Bigelow, was honored as best director (for “The Hurt Locker”). Statistics again provide clarity: Women made up a paltry 9 percent of the directors on 2012’s top-grossing films, a new San Diego State University study found.

Let’s give two-time Oscar winner Field the last word in this debate.

Actresses “should be in their own category because they ARE in their own category,” she said. “They face their own specific kind of difficulties surviving in this business that actors, bless their hearts, don’t face.”

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AP Entertainment Writers Sandy Cohen and Anthony McCartney contributed to this report.

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EDITOR’S NOTE — Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at lelber(at)ap.org.

 

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