Entertainment

Awards shows tackle gender variance issues over 'male' and 'female' categories

The entertainment industry is taking part in a growing conversation about how awards organizations should make room for performers whose gender identities don't fall neatly into the "male" or "female" categories.

'It's about recognizing people who have been completely erased and invisible and oppressed for so long'

Ameko Carroll was accepted for consideration in both male and female performance categories for B.C.'s Leo Awards for the gender-fluid child actor's turn in the short film entitled Limina. More award shows are grappling with how to make room for performers whose gender identities don't fall neatly into 'male' or female' categories. (Turbid Lake Picutres/Leo Awards)

Ameko Eks Mass Carroll may not be up for a trophy at British Columbia's Leo Awards gala on Sunday, but the young Vancouver-based actor has still made a big impact on the event.

The 11-year-old made headlines in January when the Leos, which honour the province's film and TV industry, allowed the gender-fluid actor's starring turn in the short Limina to be eligible for consideration in both male and female performance categories.

While Ameko didn't end up getting a nomination, the move set a precedent in Canada and is part of a growing conversation about how awards organizations should make room for performers whose gender identities don't fall neatly into the "male" or "female" categories.

Some other awards shows have recently acted on the issue: the MTV Movie & TV Awards offered a gender-less acting prize, while the Joey Awards, which honour young performers in Canada, also allowed Ameko to be considered in both gender categories.

"We need to [acknowledge] the fact that not all performers identify as men or women and we need to either create a third category, or until then, we need to at least allow them to submit to both categories — because it's not one or the other," said Joshua M. Ferguson, Limina's co-director and co-producer who is non-binary — a term used for someone who doesn't identify with either gender.

"When you're a gender-fluid person, you don't identify as just a man or a woman or both, so submitting to one or the other wouldn't have made sense for Ameko."

Opening up the conversation

Such a scenario also didn't make sense for Kelly Mantle last year, when producers behind Confessions of a Womanizer wanted to enter the gender-fluid American actor for Oscar consideration.

After consulting with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, they were allowed to submit Mantle's supporting role as a transgender woman in both gender categories.

It was said to be the first time the academy allowed such a move, and while Mantle didn't get a nomination, the Los Angeles performer was thrilled to just be considered.

"For me it wasn't about a nomination, it was just more about opening up this dialogue and this conversation, especially here in Hollywood, that gender-fluid actors, gender-fluid people in this industry do exist and where do we get placed in this awards-show system of male and female categories?" Mantle said in a phone interview.

Kelly Mantle made Oscars history as the first gender-fluid actor to be considered for both the best supporting actor and actress categories. (Shawn Smith)

"It's an ongoing thing that we experience our whole life. I remember being a young child growing up in Oklahoma, in school there would always be the, 'OK, all the boys line up on the left and all the girls line up on the right,' and I always felt very uncomfortable."

Non-binary actor Asia Kate Dillon of Billions recently faced the same situation when it came time to submit for a possible Emmy nomination. Variety reported that Dillon wrote to the U.S. Television Academy to question the gender-specific acting categories and ultimately chose the best supporting actor category.

'Seemed like the right thing to do'

The Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, which administers the Canadian Screen Awards for TV and film, says it welcomes gender-fluid actors "to vie in both male and female categories as they wish."

When the Leos made the same decision it "just seemed like the right thing to do," said Walter Daroshin, president of the organization that stages the awards.

"There was never any question in my mind and in our rules and regulations committee's mind that this was a genuine request," said Daroshin.

Ameko's mother, Amber Carroll, said the actor "felt great pride in being a part of supporting the non-binary community."

It helps set the path for all award shows in general to see that they can do a better job at being inclusive.- Amber Carroll, mother of gender-fluid child actor Ameko Carroll

"I think it helps set the path for all award shows in general to see that they can do a better job at being inclusive and to at least begin the discussion as to where improvements can be made," Carroll said in an email to The Canadian Press.

Ameko's situation made international headlines and Ferguson said they received an "unexpectedly warm and encouraging" response from the entire industry.

"It was really an unprecedented moment, I guess, for not just non-binary people but really for all trans people in the industry," said Ferguson.

"It was a statement of solidarity and it was really powerful, and I'm sure that there were a lot of trans people who work in the industry across the country who felt more accepted after that moment."

Some wondered whether the move gave Ameko a double chance at getting a nomination, but Ferguson said it's not about being fair or unfair — it's about inclusivity.

"It's not about giving people more options, it's actually about recognizing people who have been completely erased and invisible and oppressed for so long," said Ferguson.

"When was the last time that the industry has even awarded a non-binary performer? Has it ever happened? So until we get to that point ... we need to at least start to acknowledge and award and give these equitable chances to people like me."

Non-binary actor Asia Kate Dillon is seen presenting the award for best movie actor at the MTV Movie and TV Awards in Los Angeles in May. Emma Watson won for her role in Beauty and the Beast. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/Associated Press)

Mantle said the question of fairness would be gone if more awards shows followed the lead of the gender-neutral MTV Movie & TV Awards.

"You would have cis-identified males, cis-identified females, gender-fluid people, transgender people all in one category," said Mantle. "It would focus on the performance and the performer rather than someone's gender."

Still, gender-neutral prizes might not be the best option for every awards show right now when inequality continues in the industry, added Ferguson.

"We also have to recognize — at least I do as a feminist — that women are still completely under-represented in our industry and there is a real problem in all departments in the industry," said Ferguson.

"So we still have to be careful not to limit the opportunities for women performers and artists in general. If the categories are to be collapsed, then we also need to make sure that the patriarchy that exists in the industry doesn't become even more prominent." 

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