Thursday, July 7

From best actor and actress to best performance: eliminating the award categories for sex, a very controversial decision

This year there will be no award for best actor and best actress at the San Sebastián Film Festival. The Zinemaldia will reward the best performances, without distinction by sex, to “continue to evolve and help build a more just and egalitarian society”, as announced by its director, José Luis Rebordinos, this Tuesday. The festival follows in the footsteps of the Berlinale, which made the same decision last year, and other festivals and awards from different disciplines, such as music or television. Behind a laudable objective – to reward without distinction by sex to convey the idea that what is important is performance – there is, however, a strategy – to eliminate categories that give visibility to those who least have it – questioned by many professionals in the sector.

And answers are not always easy to answer: the categories differentiated by sex, do they help the public and the industry to recognize the talent of actresses, who suffer discrimination in the sector, or do they reproduce the idea that different epigraphs are needed for them to women get to be rewarded, as if their talent were below or had different characteristics from their peers? Do they make up inequality?

For the Association of Women Filmmakers and Audiovisual Media (CIMA) the answer is clear. “Under conditions of equality in the presence of male and female roles, we would have no doubt about the convenience of this option, but that equality is not real. And since we do not start from that basic equality, it seems to us a wrong decision because it goes against the visibility of the actresses and their opportunities to access an award “, explains one of their spokespersons, the screenwriter Virginia Yagüe.

The data in the reports periodically published by CIMA support its position. 67% of the work structure of the audiovisual industry is made up of men, a composition that is not equal, according to their latest study, from just a few days ago. They direct much more than women (81% men vs 19% women), sign more scripts (74% vs 26%), compose more soundtracks (89% vs 11%) and direct photography (85% vs. 15%). The overwhelming male presence in almost all areas influences the field of interpretation, says Virginia Yagüe. “This unevenness influences the content, in which men continue to have more prominence,” he points out.

Why then not distinctions by sex in other categories, where the difficulty of women to be seen is evident? “To be a director, you don’t have a gender requirement to cover. If the character in the scripts is a 40-year-old Caucasian male, that directly excludes actresses,” adds the CIMA spokeswoman. The researcher and writer specialized in the History of Women and gender representations in the audiovisual industry María Castejón points out that, while in other categories this division has never existed, there has been in the case of interpretation, where it dates back decades ago. It did not arise as a response to this debate, but rather the result of the greater visibility of the interpreters.

The San Sebastián Festival argued: “The change is due to the conviction that gender, a social and political construction, ceases to be a criterion of distinction in performance for us. The criterion for the Jury will be to distinguish between bad and good performances, thus adding to the path already started by our friends at the Berlin Festival “. The explanation contains, however, a relevant error. Gender is the social and cultural explanation to understand inequality, to unravel the processes that lead to women and men not running their careers on equal terms.

Only 30% of the characters

It is also clear to the actress Berta Ojea, who is responsible for Equality of the Union of Actors and Actresses. “It is something that we would applaud if we were in an egalitarian industry but that is not real. The great characters are still for men, there are fewer women with important characters or who are not characters that accompany the protagonist in some way. In fact, this lack of contracts that actresses have from the age of 35 have to do with the concept that women from one age are no longer desired and, therefore, no longer have a story. They begin to make characters ‘of care’ – the mother , the sister – some wonderful but always with that slant, “he says.

Ojea highlights another fact, in this case from one of the reports that the Union makes with AISGE (Artists Interpreters, Intellectual Property Rights Management Entity): women occupy only 30% of the characters in the entire audiovisual sector, a figure that falls after 35% years, when they go down to 19% of the characters.

María Castejón highlights the mistake of eliminating these categories today. “We cannot remove them when we are in a world, like cinema, which is the slowest to transform, we have all kinds of male characters and an under-representation of women. There is no level playing field, meritocracy does not exist and it will only serve to make ourselves invisible “.

However, shared the diagnosis, there are those who differ in the solution. The columnists of several American media Kim Elsesser and Lilly J. Goren have defended in recent years that making distinctions by sex hides or “makes up” inequality, while a unified category would make visible this lack of access to the industry and the story. “The problem of inequality is solved by attracting attention and diversifying both the Academy and the industry”, said Goren in Fortune.

Virginia Yagüe, from CIMA, does not see it clearly: “I would be in favor of activating positive measures, not that we suffer inequality again. If we do that, many women for a long time will find themselves outside the space of recognition and that is a penalty. In addition Historically, progress has been very slow for those who have been discriminated against, so we do not know to what extent that would be effective. ”

There is something on which all of them, however, agree: whether they are awards with separate or unified categories, they will not serve by themselves to end discrimination or the gaps in cinema, a job in which they want to put their energy.