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Gender Neutral Acting Awards – A New Era or a New Misstep?
by Rose Finlay

The 2021 Berlinale was full of many changes due to the pandemic, but even before the world turned upside down, one of the premier awards sections was overhauled. Traditionally, the festival awarded four acting awards, the Silver Bear for Best Actor and Best Actress in either a leading or supporting role. Beginning in 2021, this has now been changed to two awards, the Silver Bear for Best Leading Performance and the Silver Bear for Best Supporting Performance. Festival directors Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian said in a statement that the decision was “a signal for a more gender-sensitive awareness in the film industry”. Needless to say, the reactions to this decision have been mixed.

On the one hand, there is certainly a need to address societies growing respect and sensitivity for people of all gender identities. While the old model of gender specific categories would not exclude, say, transgender actor or actress, it does leave out, for example, those of a non-binary gender. By eliminating gender specific categories, this allows for the potential of more inclusivity. On the other hand, such a change does eliminate fifty percent of acting awards and requires actors of all genders to compete on an equal playing field without addressing the inequality of society and who it favors. It will certainly be interesting to see in years to come how this change pans out and how other major festivals and awards shows will address the issue.