Tuesday, 7 January 2014

And the award for the best Lead Performer goes to….

Cate Blanchett plays Bob Dylan in I'm Not There

Pete Brook tells us why we should do away with gender-segregated Oscars.

There are many strange things about trying to decide who is the ‘best actor’ because whatever performance they give is through the lens of a director and rewritten by the editor. We also don’t know what they set out to do. For example, in Dr. Strangelove, George C. Scott, wanted to play the role of General Buck Turgidson straight, but was tricked into performing over the top “practice takes” for comedic effect by Kubrick. The main point is that “Best Actor” sounds objective, when really it is a completely subjective affair, alongside the fact that the academy who votes on these matters may well have vested interests in improving the revenue of their own films.

There is however another anomaly in way these awards are designed and that is that there are gender boxes for the acting awards, but for none of the others. We don’t see best female editor, or best female VFX, or best female Director.

I have talked previously about the problems that arise from the lack of female directors in the industry and I think giving female talent more airtime can only be a good thing. HOWEVER, I cannot think of anything more patronising than saying to female directors that they're going to be in a new “little league” for the girls. This isn’t sport, there are no justifiable arguments like “men are on average bigger or stronger”. This is a creative intelligence thing in which men and women are entirely comparable and it you disagree I suggest you go away read The Mismeasure of Man and rethink your approach.

One argument against combining Best Actor and Best Actress is that, unlike any other role behind the camera, men and women on screen simply can’t get the same jobs. I have to say I thoroughly disagree for two reasons.

1. Because there are a lot of things that make people unsuitable for a role- race, size, or age are just a few examples. It would be ridiculous to suggest categories like the Best Tall Female Hispanic Leading actor in a 20-30 age bracket.

2. Prosthetics and makeup are currently good enough that this is no longer a consideration. Take, for example, Todd Haynes' surrealist Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There. It’s shows Bob Dylan at different stages in his life from young boy to old man and how they would interact if they met. It has a stellar cast; Christian Bale, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Ben Wishaw and, in my opinion, the most convincing and engaging Bob Dylan (based appearance and mannerisms) is Cate Blanchett.
There are movies out there in which a women play men, and what about trans actors, or actors who play people on both sides of a transsexual operation like in Transamerica?

The only problem I see with this now is that there are many more men in movies, and most leading characters are male (only 1/3 are women). This may push women to the back of the pack in the awards. However I think that we have to make a decision as to whether we should patronise artists at the cost of giving them more airtime. Maybe this is an idea that works better in a perfect world where woman are equally represented in film, but I think we need to standardise our approach and not have a gender-segregating system in place that, if followed to its logical conclusion, would have named Kathryn Bigelow Best Female Director instead of Best Director.

Peter Owen Brook

For the flipside, see Elle's article here - Ed. 

1 comment:

  1. One of the worst points with this industry being so male-oriented is that some women (producers, assistant directors, agents, etc.), end up "playing the game" to keep employed. I wrote about an experience where (for a film with an Oscar-nominated director and an Oscar-winning actor) the female agent sent me to an "audition" with female-only casting people and production staff, consisting in TAPING FULL ON STRIPTEASE for the appreciation of the director and their producer bosses, most likely all men. Detail: these girls were actually just going to be cast as extras. You can read it on my blog, the posting is called "Strippers Vs. Extras"