MTV awarded Emma Watson history’s first Genderless Acting Award at this year’s MTV Movie & TV Awards. Watson won the award in the best actor category for her role in Disney’s live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, a movie she mentioned at length during her acceptance speech.
Accepting the award, Watson said, “I think I’m being given this award because of who Belle is and what she represents. The villagers in our fairytale wanted to make Belle believe the world was smaller than the way that she saw it, with fewer opportunities for her. I love playing someone who didn’t listen to any of that.”
Speaking of the award itself, Watson said that “MTV’s move to create a genderless award for acting will mean something different to everyone. But to me, it indicates that acting is about the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. And that doesn’t need to be separated into two different categories.”
In her speech, Watson also thanked the award’s presenter, Asia Kate Dillon, “for educating [her] in such an inclusive, patient and loving way.”
In fact, inclusivity seemed to be a running theme for Watson. The actress, talking again about Beauty and the Beast, said it was “Belle’s curiosity and passion for knowledge and her desire for more in life” that caused her to be alienated.
“I loved playing someone who didn’t listen to any of that,” she said. “I’m so proud to be a part of a film that celebrates diversity, literacy, inclusion, joy, and love the way that this one does.
While the award was considered a step in the right direction by many, others criticized what it signified. On Good Morning Britain, for example, Piers Morgan mocked the award. He asked his co-host, “Do we need to have men and women? Do we just get rid of all of it? Do we take the man out of women and call you woes?”
Morgan continued to say that “what will happen is that women will probably win a lot less awards because they’ve made them gender neutral and there’s more male actors. So actually by trying to get equality you get more inequality.”
Piers didn’t speculate as to why there might be more male actors than female actors in the film industry. Instead, he stated that inequality comes from decisions like those made by MTV, rather than from existing structural discrimination.
Acting is just one of the many domains in which women face incredible challenges. In Elizabethan times, for example, women were unable to perform at all. Acting on the stage was considered immodest, so preventing women from performing was considered a type of paternalistic protection.
Piers seems to think that awards separated by gender provide women with a similar type of protection, allowing them only to compete against each other instead of also against a more populous male category.
But Watson believes that the award symbolizes something else: “Empathy and the ability to use your imagination should have no limits.”
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