Joanna Lumley Fears Women “Wouldn’t Have a Chance” in Gender-Neutral Acting Categories
In recent years, nongendered awards categories have been established at the Independent Spirit Awards, MTV Movie & TV Awards, Gotham Awards, and Grammys. But conversation about whether that shift should become a universal one persists. During a recent interview, Absolutely Fabulous star and BAFTA-winning British actor Joanna Lumley said that de-gendered acting categories were “a bit weird” and could shut women out altogether.
“I know that if my name was just put up as best actor against lots of men, I wouldn’t have a chance,” she told TalkTV. “But as best actress, you might [have a chance].” Elsewhere, Lumley waded into the renewed debate about awards campaigning in general. “When I read about the Oscars, and I realized that to get even onto a list to be part of the shortlist, you have to go around lobbying people and promising things, and having lunch—these are the stars who are up for it,” she explained of her skepticism. “You have to go, as it were, tarting around to get people in favor. I’m not sure about it.”
Eliminating gendered acting categories is a relatively new practice. As such, there isn’t a lot of data to validate Lumley’s fears—although the Brit Awards were recently criticized for nominating only men in artist of the year, an award that eventually went to Harry Styles.
While confounding for some, doing away with gender splits is a welcome development for many nonbinary performers, including Hacks’ Carl Clemons-Hopkins, who in 2021 became the first openly nonbinary performer to be nominated for an acting Emmy. They told Vanity Fair at the time that they consider the term “actor” one of trade, not gender, even when opposite an equivalent “actress” category. “A lot of people are realizing the very limited structure that the society that we live in is under,” they added.
Emma Corrin, who recently told Vanity Fair they’d like to be considered for roles of all genders, is also in support of the shift. “It’s difficult for me at the moment trying to justify in my head being nonbinary and being nominated in female categories,” Corrin told BBC News last year. “When it comes to categories, do we need to make it specific as to whether you’re being nominated for a female role or a male role?” They continued, “I hope for a future in which that happens.… It’s about everyone being able to feel acknowledged and represented.”
For Janelle Monáe, who publicly came out as nonbinary early last year, later admitted to Vanity Fair that they hadn’t given much thought to nongendered awards until recently. “Like most people, I’ve been so trained to see women or men—the binary stuff has just been the norm,” Monáe said. “It’d be great for them to expand that. It would be amazing. It would, in my opinion, make people feel like the category feels like them.”
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