Non-binary awards and inclusive quotas for Oscars

The Berlin Film Festival decided this year to change the award system to accommodate gender neutrality. In this sense it has changed the Best Actor and Best Actress awards, which have been replaced by two singles: one for Best Leading Performance and one for Best Supporting Performance. This news, together with the communication from the much better known Hollywood Oscars that they too will change the criteria for the award of the best film by precluding the selection of those who meet certain minimum standards of inclusion, has led our team to a heated debate in which several reflections have emerged.

Dr. Sofia Perinetti intervened on the award ceremonies no longer classified by gender: "I think that what has been done is an important, historical step, and that it is a trend of change that has arisen from the will of both actors and spectators. Admitting inclusiveness and being open to all kinds of feelings allows both greater confidence in roles and awards for actors and greater openness for society. We are well aware that many changes in people's mentality go from film/tv or social media that influence daily life so much".

Then Francesca Oggiano added: "At first glance I am always happy when I read news like this for two reasons: the first is that, for example, I would like that an award as "best protagonist" was really chosen as the best protagonist of the festival regardless of whether it was produced or acted by men or women. The second point that I find in favour of this initiative is that an actor or actress may not define himself or herself with respect to one or the other gender and not specifying a category allows a higher level of inclusion".

Our Project Manager, Dr. Sofia Abourachid, intervened, specifying that "It is not enough, however, to eliminate certain categories of awards to solve what is a problem to all intents and purposes. Gender discrimination is not easy to combat, even when it seems so. It may be that these initiatives in the film industry, instead of helping, create difficulties for those working in the sector. The aim should always be inclusion and equality regardless, even if help from the film machine could make a difference, but without any reverse problems. It would not be right for the next day to start rumours that this woman won because she was "helped" in some way. If a woman wins it is because she deserves it. And this applies to everyone, no matter what."

Or Dr. Chiara Landolfo observes that "I think they are both excellent initiatives to bring about greater inclusion and impartiality in practice. A positive aspect can certainly be that of achieving gender blindness, while the negative side could emerge in the case that the male sex prevails in the awarding of the prize for prejudice".

Here Dr. Simona Destro analyzes how "Immediately I thought that the idea of eliminating gender distinctions in the cinematographic field could be an excellent solution, also to meet all those who do not identify with a specific gender (so-called "gender-fluid"); I recall the Ruby Rose case, who has always declared that she does not necessarily want to identify with the male or female gender. However, there could be a risk that the principle of equality would be considerably penalised, giving greater merit exclusively to male (or female) winners, since there is no longer a category specifically dedicated to the opposite sex. In other words, it could happen that in the next 4 years (for example), the "Best Performance Award" of the Berlin Film Festival will be awarded only to men, thus raising quite a few controversies about meritocracy and gender equality".

Dr. Simona Sora adds: "The choice of the organizers of the Berlin Festival can be considered a first step towards greater respect for those who feel they belong to a non-binary gender, but I don't think that the ability of men and women to act is different for simple biological reasons, so I don't see why not make a single award if everyone can be judged by the same criteria".

With reference to the quotas imposed for the Hollywood Oscars, Dr. Simona Destro went on to note that "Surely the intention of the Academy is noble, that is to achieve a total inclusion of disadvantaged and minority categories. Too often, in fact, we hear about totalwhite commissions, just as it is rare for award winners to belong to minorities. A more careful reading, however, brings to light problems that are perhaps not effectively considered: it makes us reflect on the inclusion of the category of women among those that have always been under-represented and, therefore, "protected". The new Academy guidelines, in fact, require that certain requirements must be met in order to be able to compete: among these, there is the fact that at least 30% of those acting in "secondary or minor" roles are women. Women are therefore considered on a par with LGBTQ+ categories, ethnic or racial groups and individuals with disabilities. As a woman, I sincerely consider this categorisation a serious risk for gender equality and for the general consideration of women, certainly to be valued, but not because she belongs to protected categories, but simply as a woman".

Elena Pavan says: "Surely the first thing that came to mind is the word "inclusion". I refer to the evolution that there has been in the field of law, with the introduction of the so-called "inclusion clause" in the race for Best Film. In 2018, during her speech at the Oscars, Frances McDormand spoke about Inclusion Rider: it is precisely a contractual clause that obliges productions not to discriminate on the basis of gender or race on set, with a mandatory percentage of "diversity". It is precisely a "new" clause, whose inclusion in the contract requires that the cast, and even the technical staff, be made up of 50% of people belonging to minorities. I notice an attempt to include and involve groups, often discredited and little considered, in an industry as impactful as the film industry, which looks no one in the eye".

Sociologist Dr. Marwa Fichera intervened: "In the world of cinema and television, many of the plots presented to us focus on male protagonists accompanied by secondary characters such as women and ethnic minority extras. Even less represented are the LGBTQI+ groups and people with disabilities. I hope that the inclusion of plots with characters who reflect the "diversity" of today's world through different eyes, experiences and identities will result in positive feedback in society. Equally important is the diversification of production and promotion teams to give space to the groups underrepresented in the film industry. It is hoped that with the new inclusion criteria for the Oscar nomination, it will be rewarded the skill and not the belonging to a particular group, just to "tick the boxes" in the inclusion list. It is also hoped that, in attempting to create projects worthy of the nomination, no stereotypical and trivial depictions with female characters, or exaggeratedly tragic and violent stories with LGBTQI+ and/or ethnic minority characters, will fall into the category. It would be constructive to see these groups also in films where they can play roles in positions of power, be superheroes and have a happy ending in life stories".

In conclusion, it can be analysed how even apparently small decisions such as those to change the award formula or insert participation fees have extremely significant impacts and at the same time open up many cross-cutting issues. The elimination of gender categories at film awards could be an interesting test case for application in other social contexts. Just as, from a critical point of view, the need to include participation fees in order to encourage greater inclusiveness in the film sector shows that the problem is upstream; it may not be taken for granted that the current cinema system is the result of certain dynamics belonging to the last generation and that we have to wait for subjects belonging to underrepresented categories to emerge from our social system as a whole and from there to become part of the world of cinema. Just as the elimination of gender would guarantee greater inclusiveness for the actors but at the same time it would risk undermining the conversation linked to gender equality; in fact, as my colleagues anticipated, even a fortuitous sequence of victories for a given gender (especially if it is majority) could be misunderstood apart from the single contexts that perhaps saw those figures as truly worthy of the award compared to the others. In short, the themes are hot and absolutely complex, the wish is to always keep a critical and overall look to avoid falling into apparently simple solutions and to close debates that should be deepened and extended to as many areas as possible, as these are issues that concern us all as human beings and that involve every sphere of our life.

Translated by Francesca Cioffi

Original version by Fabio Di Gioia

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  • L'Autore

    Fabio Di Gioia

    Dottore in Scienze internazionali ed istituzioni europee, attualmente si sta specializzando nel corso di laurea magistrale in Relazioni Internazionali. È stato Presidente del Collegio dei Revisori dei Conti e co-ideatore del progetto TrattaMI Bene. È ora autore per la sezione Diritti Umani e nella sua rubrica Dŏmĭna.

    Doctor in International Sciences and European Institutions, he is currently specializing in the Master's degree program in International Relations. He has been President of the Board of Auditors and co-creator of the project TrattaMI Bene. He is now an author for the Human Rights section and in his column Dŏmĭna.


Sections Human Rights



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