And the winner is... old-time sexism?

It's the time of rustling envelopes, awkward presentations and a deranged gush of thanks or gracelessness. Awards season reaches its Oscar apogee this weekend, while British theatre continues to scatter statuettes over the profession, leading up to the Olivier Awards ceremony on 8 March.

As we know, awards are random acts of randomosity and little weight should be attached to who's in and who's out (though should the monkey ever find himself nominated for, say, best speccy no-mates it will be a different story). But surely we can agree on the categories? Writing, directing, designing, yes? My personal favourites are the Clarence Derwent Awards which recognise supporting roles, at which the British excel (in the US, they are awarded to promising young actors) - as Anthony Lane observes, 'Character acting is, of course, one of the four things that the British still do supremely well, the others being soldiering, tailoring, and getting drunk in public.'

But why in 2009 are acting awards still divided by gender? What is it that male and female performers do that is so very different from each other? Aren't Judi Dench and Ian McKellen engaged in a similar process on stage and in rehearsal? Is it sensible or valuable to discuss actors separately according to their gender? How does that help us assess a performance?

Now, I'm naive but not wholly idiotic. I realise there are other factors at work here. In both theatre and film, actors tend to grab more headlines than their creative colleagues. They provide glamour and celebrity and idiosyncratic red-carpet attire. On the podium they blub and blurt. Who wouldn't want to double the acting categories and thus the attendant news coverage?

But we can always devise new acting categories in order to guarantee thespian involvement. Many recognise comedy as well as drama, single out musical theatre and Shakespeare. Let's add prizes for best sweaty naturalism, period prancing or conceptual dedication. But surely it's time we dropped the division by gender. After all, wouldn't you like to love to see Streep and Rourke go head-to-head? A Brangelina smackdown? See, feminism can be fun...

What is the Monkey missing here? Should we continue to separate the sexes at awards time? And if you could bestow just one acting Oscar or Olivier, who would you pick? Kate Winslet or Sean Penn? Penelope Wilton or Derek Jacobi?

February 19, 2009 12:48 PM | | Comments (6) |

6 Comments

So, gang, the Oscars are done. If you'd just had one shiny statuette to award, would it have gone to Kate or Sean? Sean or Kate? (I'd probably have picked Winslet, but for Revolutionary Road rather than The Reader. So I've cheated already).

You've given me good sense and cruel sarcasm (that's not a complaint), but I'm still wanting to know: what's the diff (beyond the obvious) between male and female actors?

There are many talented actors each year. Giving out an award for each gender allows twice as many people to be recognized for their outstanding artistry.

There are only two possible reasons:

1. All the people involved with these organizations and all of those who support them are sexist pigs

OR

2. There simply are different standards for actors and actresses.

Look, it wasn't that long ago that there were actors and actresses. Oh, wait a minute, there still are....

A depressing thought but all too plausible, everycritic. Male angst is still an endlessly fascinating theme for those who assess seriousness in acting and writing. And, as you suggest, men still receive the lion's share of screen time. Take the differing views across the awards panels about whether Kate Winslet's performance in The Reader should be considered as a leading or supporting role.

Really good roles are not always evenly distributed between the sexes and I'll venture to suggest that male performances and stories are STILL considered slightly more relevant, important and impressive than women's roles and stories which are often dismissed as "chick flicks." (EVENING is a good example.)

My guess is that if we disbanded the two categories, we'd occationally have female winners but male winners would be far more common.

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This page contains a single entry by Performance Monkey published on February 19, 2009 12:48 PM.

You looking at me? was the previous entry in this blog.

Practical criticism: reading without prejudice is the next entry in this blog.

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