In early June, Asia Kate Dillon made a convincing argument that award shows should abolish gender-specific categories.
Arguably the highest-profile non-binary actor on television, the “Billions” star wrote a letter to SAG-AFTRA, calling for “an end to segregated acting categories” in the SAG Awards.
In 2017, Dillon — who portrays finance whiz Taylor Mason on the Showtime drama — asked the guild to clarify its gender distinctions, and was nominated in the supporting actor category (they were subsequently nominated in the same category for the Critics’ Choice Awards).
According to Variety, Dillon was recently asked to serve on the SAG Awards’ motion picture nominating committee, and they recently wrote an open letter.
“In late 2016, I publicly came out as non-binary, meaning I’m not male or female, or man or womxn. I use they, them, their pronouns,” they wrote.
“Separating people based on their assigned sex, and/or their gender identity, is not only irrelevant when it comes to how an acting performance should be judged, it is also a form of discrimination,” Dillon continued. “Not only do your current categories erase non-binary identities by limiting performers to identifying as male or female / man or womxn (which not all SAG members, like myself, do), they also serve as an endorsement of the gender binary at large, which actively upholds other forms of discrimination, including racism, the patriarchy, and gender violence.”
Dillon continued by highlighting the double standard of having male and female acting categories, pointing out that if the Emmys were to address underrepresentation “by creating Best Black/POC/Indigenous actress in a leading/supporting role, that action would resoundingly read as what it was: racist and discriminatory.”
When Showtime wanted to submit their name for Emmy consideration in 2017, Dillon decided to be entered into the supporting actor category, since “actor” is a gender-neutral term.
“I now recognize, however, that being submitted or nominated within categories that reinforce the gender-binary should have been met with my outright rejection of those nominations, alongside calling for change,” they added.
“Not only is it possible to combine all of your leading and supporting nominees into the same gender-neutral categories, there is precedent: On May 7, 2017, I presented the first gender-neutral acting award, to Emma Watson, at the MTV Movie & TV Awards, noting, ‘It’s so cool to be here presenting the first acting award ever that celebrates performance free of any gender distinctions. Tonight we celebrate portrayals of the human experience, because the only distinction we should be making when it comes to awards is between each outstanding performance,'” Dillon explained.
They concluded by writing: “I would be thrilled to serve as a judge, provided you take immediate action to combine your acting awards into gender-neutral categories. This courageous and overdue step from my union would send a wide message that SAG not only supports me but supports all its non-binary and gender non-conforming members.”
SAG-AFTRA responded to Dillon saying that they will not be eliminating gender categories for the 2021 ceremony, but are working on changing things for the future.
“The suggestion to go to one category raises significant concerns in terms of gender parity as well as racial and ethnic diversity. However, this is a larger conversation we are continuing to explore, and we’ll be reaching out to you for a discussion with the SAG Awards,” a letter to Dillon said.
“As you know, our nominating committee has been selected and notified and the 27th SAG Awards season is underway. We would welcome your participation on the Nominating Committee, however, we respect your position should you choose to decline this year,” the letter added.
Dillon responded, turning down sitting on the Nominating Committee.
“Thank you for your response. I’m glad to hear that you strive to be as inclusive as possible and that you agree the work is by no means done. I am also heartened by your acknowledgement that this is a larger conversation you’re willing to have. I share your significant concern for ‘gender parity as well as racial and ethnic diversity’ at the SAG Awards. My initial letter was inspired by those concerns, and I am disappointed to learn that you are not prepared to make changes for the upcoming 27th SAG Awards, slated for January 24, 2021,” they wrote.
“Given our mutual concern for gender parity, I would hope we might also share a goal of creating acting categories that are inclusive of all sexes and genders identities. There are at least 64 known gender identities and at least five known biological sexes.* Whether you are using the words in reference to assigned sex at birth or to gender identity, dividing your acting categories into female and male is, while well-intentioned, exclusionary and therefore discriminatory. Not all 160,000 SAG members identify as female or male, and there is not now, nor has there ever been, a way to acknowledge these performers at the SAG Awards,” Dillon continued.
“To be honest, I struggle to understand how having female and male acting categories has done anything to ensure racial and ethnic diversity. As the charts below demonstrate, since their inception in 1995, the SAG Awards’ nominees for all individual acting awards have been 88% white, while only 12% of nominees have been BIPOC. BIPOC women have fared worse than BIPOC men. Yes, the overall trend has been toward increased diversity, yet the reality is that the SAG Awards remain overwhelmingly white.”
Dillon said that they, “continue to believe that abolishing gendered acting categories, in tandem with putting in place new regulations to ensure a significant increase of BIPOC nominees, is a key part of the solution.”
Concluding, “I decline participation as a judge of the acting categories in their current exclusionary form, but I look forward to our continued conversation.”