Making waves across the net this weekend was Kim Elsesser's NYT op-ed asking one of those good questions that seems so obvious when asked, except no one (publicly, at least) ever asks it:
Suppose, however, that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented separate honors for best white actor and best non-white actor, and that Mr. Freeman was prohibited from competing against the likes of Mr. Clooney and Mr. Bridges. Surely, the academy would be derided as intolerant and out of touch; public outcry would swiftly ensure that Oscar nominations never again fell along racial lines.
Why, then, is it considered acceptable to segregate nominations by sex, offering different Oscars for best actor and best actress?
And so I put the question not to the Oscars, but to...the Tonys! In 2010 are we really committed to reinforcing in the theatre some idea of men and women being separate acting species?
Two of Elsesser's more persuasive points:
While it is certainly acceptable for sports competitions like the Olympics to have separate events for male and female athletes, the biological differences do not affect acting performances. The divided Oscar categories merely insult women, because they suggest that women would not be victorious if the categories were combined. In addition, this segregation helps perpetuate the stereotype that the differences between men and women are so great that the two sexes cannot be evaluated as equals in their professions.
Worth considering, no?
Now it will never happen, of course. At least not at high profile glitz events like the Oscars and (albeit on a much chintzier level of glitz) the Tonys. My theory is that in addition to the no-doubt embedded sexist underpinnings of the entire entertainment industry, there's also the issue of these shows as a kind of "movie" in themselves that need both male and female "leads." (Like that photo you usually get the morning after of the Best Actor posing with the Best Actress.) Plus you can look at it as "affirmative action" as Elsesser implies guaranteeing men--who inevitably win as directors, producers, technicians, not to mention hosts--will not dominate the whole show.
But in the end, it just really, really makes no sense, does it.
So I wonder: can we pressure maybe some of the smaller theatre awards--like the Lortels, the Drama Desk, yea even the vaunted NY Critics Circle--to reconsider?
(Obies already get around this by, a) having no nominees, and b) awarding all actors under the label "performance.)
Then again, maybe when we realize how ludicrous it is to say men and women can't comete against each other in acting, we'll also realize how ludicrous it is to treat acting as a competitive sport at all.