Melanie McDonagh

Emma Watson is right: film awards should be ‘gender neutral’

Emma Watson is right: film awards should be 'gender neutral'
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Exhibitionist: Writing About Art in a Daily Newspaper

Richard Dorment

Bitter Lemon Press/ Wilmington Square Books, pp. 528, £

Emma Watson isn’t, you might say, to everyone’s taste, given that her feminism – she can hardly get up in the morning, it seems, given the burden of expectations on her as a woman – is combined with the possession of a very large, Harry Potter-related fortune. My own reservations about her have more to do with her limited range as an actress – the Dorothy Parker gag about running the whole gamut from A to B comes to mind, though W for wooden might be more like it.

But she had a point, she really did, in her acceptance speech for MTV’s acting award for her role as Belle in Beauty and the Beast. She has been mocked rather cruelly – though why she should pay any attention to anything people say on Twitter is beyond me – for making too much of the award, given the award does appear to be a bucket of popcorn. But the point about it is that it is gender neutral: boys and girls compete on an equal basis. As Emma W observes:

'The first acting award in history that doesn’t separate nominees based on their sex says something about how we perceive the human experience. MTV’s move to create a genderless award for acting will mean something different to everyone. But to me, it indicates that acting is about the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. And that doesn’t need to be separated into two different categories.'

She’s right, you know, she’s so right. You can, just about, see the point of separate men’s and women’s sporting contests, given the disparity in the sexes’ physical strength, but acting? I think not. It isn’t to do with gender, it’s to do with being able to act. Ditto literature: the existence of the Orange awards, as was, or whatever they’re called nowadays, is downright odd. There is indeed a woman’s voice in writing, but it doesn’t need its very own safe space.

The trouble with a gender neutral Oscars is obvious: it would mean fewer prizes and fewer opportunities for actresses to shine as winners. An award that tended to favour men would be about as acceptable as one that favoured films by and about white people. And given that this concern ended up with an Oscar for the frankly unwatchable Moonlight last time round, you can see how it could end up if gender replaced race.

Except on a no-fear-or-favour basis, quite often women are ahead of the field. Good for Emma Watson for breaking down the barriers.