Jessica Chastain has won the Silver Shell for Best Performer at the San Sebastián film festival for her role in Tammy Faye’s eyes. It has not been as best actress nor has it had a male counterpart in the list of winners. The award is shared with 16-year-old Flora Ofelia Hofmann for the film As in Heaven. It was two women this time. But the decision to remove the gender distinction for the first time in the festival’s 69-year history has sparked conflicting opinions in the industry.
The ten films that have caused the most talk in San Sebastián and when they arrive at the cinema
José Luis Rebordinos defends that “a social and political construction” such as gender should not be a criterion for evaluating a performance and thus open the door to other “identities that are not ascribed to the male or female gender.” The director of San Sebastián wanted to follow in the footsteps of the Berlinale, the first European festival that opted to neutralize the category of performance to “continue to evolve and help build a more just and egalitarian society.”
On paper it sounds coherent. After all the controversy, was it a good idea to bet on it? “Under conditions of equality between male and female roles, we would have no doubt about their convenience, but that equality is not real,” state the Audiovisual Women’s Associations, which has asked to restore the two awards at the Zinemaldia. Although Chastain and Hoffman have won the Silver Shell, it seems to them “a wrong decision because it goes against the visibility of the actresses,” they have defended in a statement.
Rebordinos defends that “a social and political construction” such as gender should not be a criterion for evaluating a performance
“For me it is a great disappointment that the most important festivals in Europe have opted to reduce the visibility of women’s work,” says Berta Ojea, actress and Secretary of Equality of the Union of Actors. “It is harmful because we face disappearing from the story, as we disappear from the scripts.” The data thus support it inside and outside the fiction. In Spanish industry the percentages are far from equal. In management there are 81% men compared to 19% women; they sign 74% of the scripts; they make up 89% of soundtracks compared to 11%; and they hold 85% of the positions in photography direction.
The case of actors and actresses is more difficult to measure in numbers, although the latter are around 30%. For Ojea “the great characters are still for men and there are few women who are not companions of the protagonist in some way”. The “social patterns” that determine a woman’s working life based on her age, sexualization or even the wage gap that separates them from male performers also come into play.
Although this year’s Official Selection of San Sebastián has not been equal in terms of direction (13 men and 7 women), it has presented powerful stories starring actresses. Maixabel, Rescue Distance, Grandma or Tammy Faye’s eyes are some examples. Is something changing in the industry? Professionals in the sector do not think so because “films written and directed by screenwriters and directors have a high number of female protagonists”, so eliminating the Best Actress category “affects the set of recognitions for films led by creators” .
Nor does Ojea think that the decision is justified because Jessica Chastain and the young Danish actress have won the award. “I do not think it was a strategy of the jury because I trust their honesty. But it does not matter if a woman wins it today or if she wins it for three years. We are very few and they are leaving us without representation,” says the Secretary of Equality. “And if the intention was to include new identities, which I think is fantastic, where are they?”
Anti-separatism: reasons for the union
The Union of Actors understands the relevance of awards for performers, especially actresses, who are in a continuous trench to prove the worth of their work. However, there are those who believe that separating them in two perpetuates the myth that the differences between men and women do not allow them to be evaluated equally even if they perform the same profession.
In fact, it does not occur in other categories such as direction or script. Of course, in them, as in the Nobel, the Cervantes, the Priztker and even the Grammys, women tend to be the light weight on the scale. The fact that neutrality accepts professionals of both sexes does not mean that they have the same opportunities. But it is also true that separating the awards for Best Actress and Best Actor only makes up for a entrenched inequality in the film industry.
The Association of Audiovisual Women defends that the case of interpreters is different from that of other film professionals: “To be a director or director you do not have a gender requirement to cover. But if in the scripts most of the characters are male 40-year-old Caucasians directly exclude actresses. ” Ojea shares this opinion and adds that “the actors and actresses are the ones who represent the story. If they erase us, we take steps backwards”.
Some believe that separating them in two perpetuates the myth that the differences between men and women do not allow them to be evaluated equally even if they perform the same profession
The other reason that the anti-separatists point out is that of the binary conception of gender per se. In 2017, with Kelly Mantle shortlisted at the Oscars in both Best Actress and Best Actor categories, the debate reached a new level of complexity. It also linked directly to the Emmy Awards of that year, where the protagonist of the series Billions, Asia Kate Dillon, submitted her candidacy without identifying herself with any gender. “How can we not question this binary division of the world if we are in the midst of a revolution on the conception of gender?” they were then asked in Vanity Fair magazine.
The awards play the role of a sort of showcase to show off the work and facilitate the work of the producers. For this reason, losing a safe place in the list of winners is not a dish of good taste for actors or actresses. That is the reason why the precursors of the Simón Awards backed down in their commitment to having only one category: interpretation.
Neither San Sebastián nor Berlin: Zaragoza was first
Before the Berlinale and before San Sebastián, it was Zaragoza. The awards offered by the Aragón Film Academy, the Simóns, bet 10 years ago not to differentiate the award for interpretation by gender. “Some may think that it was an economic decision, because the trophies in themselves are very expensive and at the beginning the budget was ridiculous and we had no support from the institutions,” acknowledges Manuel Aparicio, a member of the Academy’s board of directors.
But in addition to saving on figurines, they wanted to differentiate themselves from the rest of the ceremonies and recognize “that in other categories and technical professions they have never distinguished themselves.” “It is a discrimination for the other great workers of the sector and it seems negative to me that it is distinguished only in the case of actors and actresses”, justifies Aparicio.
“The galas would be eternal if we began to separate all the prizes between men and women,” reflected in this newspaper the then vice president of the Aragonese Academy. According to him, positive discrimination had to be applied from the root, not at the end of the process. “The awards do not seem as important to me as the positions of responsibility, where it is shown that we live in a macho world,” he argued.
Aparicio, on the other hand, understands that “it is what the public sees.” “In a massive way, people do not distinguish if a sound technician or a scriptwriter is a woman or a man, but the public does put a face to the actors and actresses.” But his conviction remains that “interpretation does not understand gender.” In its decade of life, the Simón Awards have awarded more actresses than actors.
For this reason, when two years ago the assembly of the Aragonese Academy voted to recover both categories, Aparicio perceived it as a defeat. “It saddened me because we had been pioneers,” says the spokesperson. The proposal was born from the union of actors and actresses of Aragon, who are also part of the Academy. “For them it is a showcase. When the spokesperson explained it, she clearly said that it was because they had a better chance of winning prizes,” he says.
As for the decision of San Sebastián, which has caused a stir that they never had to face, the academic receives it with “joy.” “It is a path that we open and that we are always in time to recover again. I believe that with the sum of the Zinemaldia and the Berlinale it is a good moment to use it as evidence,” he concludes.