Let’s not underplay this: Emma Watson just became the Rosa Parks of today’s Hollywood.
Declining to honor gender demarcations just as Parks once declined to observe racial ones, Watson, holding a goofy simulacrum of a bucket of popcorn, gave a heartfelt speech Sunday night when she accepted a gender-neutral “Best Actor” award — open to males, females, and everyone in between — at the MTV Movie & TV Awards.
“Empathy and the ability to use your imagination should have no limits,” Watson declared, thanking Dillon for “educating” her “in such an inclusive, patient, and loving way.”
The MTV Movie Awards (as the ceremony was known before this year) is so culturally evanescent that neither Watson nor Dillon was aware that they weren’t participating in a first. The cable channel had given out gender-neutral acting prizes before, at its 2006 and 2007 ceremonies. No one took much notice, because that was before the progressive brigades occupying the commanding heights of the culture began raining mortar rounds on anyone who questioned whether America needed to do much rearrangement to accommodate a 0.6 percent minority.
There’s no artistic reason why there should be sex-segregated acting Oscars. There is no designation for Best Screenplay Written by a Female, or Best Directress. But there is nonetheless an excellent reason to have separate awards for Best Actor and Actress: Because it means more trophies to give out. And the main purpose of the Oscars is to promote movies.
As it is, there are only six awards that TV viewers much care about — Best Picture, Best Director, and the four acting Oscars. Were the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) to eliminate gender distinctions, we’d be left with only two acting Oscars. Let’s say that in order to honor the same number of nominees, AMPAS decided to designate ten nominees for Best Performer of Any Gender and ten more for Best Supporting Performer of Any Gender. How would that work out? Not well for women.
Most movies are written by men, and most are directed by men. Men tend to have more insights into their male characters, and great characters are the foundations of great acting. Moreover, Oscars tend to go to those who play people in extreme situations and historical figures. That’s a big advantage for men, too: Not only are most of history’s defining figures men, so are most of its serial killers.
Emma Stone, this year’s Best Actress winner for playing a sweet young actress in La La Land, wouldn’t have stood a chance of winning against the tortured characters played by Denzel Washington in Fences and Casey Affleck (who won Best Actor) in Manchester by the Sea. If it weren’t for gender segregation, Meryl Streep, the greatest film actress of her generation and maybe of all time, wouldn’t even have been nominated this year for playing a daffy but unimportant would-be singer in Florence Foster Jenkins. Leonardo DiCaprio crawled out of his own grave, rode a horse off a cliff, and ate a raw bison liver in The Revenant. Saoirse Ronan worked at a department store and chose between two suitors in Brooklyn. Which one would be nominated if there were room for only one of them? Gender-segregated acting Oscars amount to an affirmative-action program for women.
The Academy’s interest in promoting movies and movie stars is now in open conflict with its need to virtue-signal.
Yet the Academy’s interest in promoting movies and movie stars is now in open conflict with its need to virtue-signal. Knowing that it hurts ratings to politicize the ceremony and reward liberal message movies that nobody cares about, the Academy continues to politicize the ceremony and reward liberal message movies that nobody cares about. AMPAS is terrified of seeming behind the times when it comes to the latest progressive imperative, and today’s progressives are in the grip of an ecstatic frenzy to honor the transgendered. Excluding two acting winners each year in the name of inclusion is the kind of thing that makes perfect sense to the Left.
Variety’s chief movie critic, Owen Gleiberman, laid out what is likely to be the new progressive stance on the matter in a column. Watson redefined “the traditional acting gender wall not as a separate-but-equal distinction but as a sideways glass ceiling,” he wrote. “For a few moments, she made you see it in a new way.” He continued:
Where will all this lead? I don’t even want to predict. Maybe nowhere. Maybe somewhere. But what it could depend on is exactly the feelings of actors like Watson, who represent evolving ways of looking at things. Wherever it leads (or doesn’t), I have to give the MTV Movie & TV Awards credit for having the audacity to shake up the cultural DNA, to show us what a new kind of post-gender consciousness feels like. For kicking open a door by simply doing it. Maybe it’s just a sexually correct tempest in a teapot. A decade from now, on the other hand, we could be saying: It all started here. The way so many things do at MTV.
Who in Hollywood wants to be seen as un-evolved? Who wants to stand in the way if a cultural door needs to be kicked in? The arc of history bends toward MTV. I’m pretty sure Martin Luther King Jr. said that.
— Kyle Smith is National Review’s critic-at-large.