The BIFAs look to the future by introducing gender-neutral acting categories

Gender isn't binary, and awards programs ought to reflect that simple truth.


Charles Bramesco


In the summer of 2020, actor Asia Kate Dillon – a star of TV’s Billions, and noteworthy as one of the small screen’s few non-binary performers portraying a non-binary character – made a public statement urging the Screen Actors Guild to drop the gender specifications of their awards program.

Dillon’s argument was simple, explaining that they don’t personally fit into either the male or female categories, and that excellence doesn’t need to be separated by gender in the first place; SAG was unconvinced, and instead instructed Dillon to choose whether to compete alongside male or female actors.

This frustrating episode may soon be part of an ever-more-remote past, in light of a heartening development announced today. The British Independent Film Awards have ruled that starting with the upcoming 25th annual awards ceremony, they’ll do away with the male and female categories and opt in for a more unpredictable, inclusive, and forward-thinking system for recognising each year’s achievements in the cinema.

Deadline reports that the BIFAs will now nominate actors of all genders across five total awards: Best Lead Performance, Best Supporting Performance, Best Joint Lead Performance (given to two or sometimes provisionally three actors for roles that share top billing in their given story), and Best Ensemble. The newly gender-irrespective awards now match the Breakthrough Performance award, which was open to men and women from the start.

While this system removes the guarantee of male-to-female parity ensured by the gendered acting distinctions, the advantages outweigh the imperfections. In lumping all nominees into one of two identities, anyone outside of a rigid, restrictive notion of gender finds no place in an institution that can make careers and pump up salary asks.

It’s an issue that’s only going to grow more prevalent as the mainstream understanding of gender continues to grow past the binary, and other awards programs would do well to take notice. It’s only a matter of time until the BAFTAs or the Oscars find themselves in a quandary more immediate than theoretical, with a hopeful nominee that demands to be acknowledged as they are.

Published 5 Jul 2022

Tags: British Independent Film Awards Oscars Screen Actors Guild

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