film

Hollywood decides to nominate based on ‘performance’ over gender

T.T. Stern-Enzi

Photo: Ingrid Bergman as Paula Alquist in Oscar-winning ‘Gaslight’

Have you ever stopped to consider the all-time grudge match competitions that could have dominated our cultural dialogues over the years? To isolate just one knock-down, drag-them-out slug-fest: who gave the best performance of the year back in 2001—Denzel Washington in “Training Day” (you know, when he told us that “King Kong didn’t have shit on” him) or Halle Berry in “Monster’s Ball” (where she’s pleading with Billy Bob Thornton to “make me feel good”).

We remember the historic nature of that year, those two shattering and seemingly historically re-enforced bulletproof ceilings, with Washington subverting his obligatory righteous fury and Berry baring her wounded and naked soul for all to see, but which of the two gave us that one truly shining cinematic moment?

It looks like its time to erase another barrier, this time between the sexes. In the eternal debate to determine who are the GOATs (Greatest of All Time) in the world of film, why do we separate Meryl Streep from Robert DeNiro and Marlon Brando? How does Daniel Day-Lewis stack up against the likes of Ingrid Bergman? For the record, Bergman earned three Oscars—two leads for “Gaslight” and  “Anastasia” and one for supporting in “Murder on the Orient Express,” while Day-Lewis thus far has three Oscars—all for leading roles (“My Left Foot,” “There Will Be Blood,” and “Lincoln”) and he’s done so with fewer nominations—five total for him, seven for Bergman.

I can hear the debate haters gearing up now. Why does an artistic pursuit have to devolve into a statistics laden show of bluster, normally reserved for the wide world of sports? Well, let’s not forget, we’ve had Academy Awards since 1929, so we can’t act like competition has never been involved in the discussion of art and performance.

And on a related note, has anyone ever wondered why there’s no distinction for Best Director, Female at the Academy Awards? We constantly argue for a level playing field, for the removal of such separations that lead to unequal and/or preferential treatment. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as of 2012, had a voting membership of over 5,500, divided into professional branches representing the different disciplines in film production. Actors comprise the largest voting bloc, and the body as a whole has maintained this curiously privileged divide.

Has there ever been a year when the five nominated actresses have earned as much money for their efforts as the men up for Best Actor? That’s a loaded question, when you factor in whether the films were studio projects or indie productions, but I hope you can certainly see where this point is going. In the last few years, actresses like Jennifer Lawrence have been quite vocal about the disparity in pay, with minor strides being made thanks to the glacial rise in solidarity among certain enlightened actors and actresses.

With recognition for the Best Performance, such competition might lead to revolutionary thinking, in terms of how we evaluate effort and worth in this field of endeavor.

Although, going down a different tangential path, the Golden Globes will probably start lodging formal complaints against such stream-lined designations, which run counter to their naked grab to boost the number of seats at their expensive tables during their gala celebration. If they could get away with adding even more separate, and ultimately unequal categories, you know they would.

Getting back to the fundamental argument; take the perspective of writer-designer-director Anna Biller (“The Love Witch”) who said, in a recent interview supporting the release of her new film, “I’ve never been lumped in with other female directors. It’s true that women’s filmmaking is incredibly diverse, but I am personally interested in how female consciousness might shape artwork differently, especially in the way female characters are constructed.”

Her line of thinking here seems to fly in the face of the recent decision to abolish gender subsets in the performative realm, but there’s a counter-intuitive aspect that needs to be explored. What if, by aggregating the best male and female performances together for evaluation, we culturally and critically open the door for dialogue rooted in analyzing what we mean when we talk about “male” and “female” roles?

Editor’s note: There has not yet been a ‘decision’ to forego the awards season distinctions between actor and actress by assigning nominations for best performance.

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T.T. Stern-Enzi
Reach DCP Film Critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit his blog for additional film reviews at TerrenceTodd.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @ttsternenzi.

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