Berlin Film Festival to make awards gender neutral: Is it time to finally move on from gender and talk about just talent?


It’s been a while since we have been hearing who is the Best Actor and Best Actress — a clear demarcation in term of gender right there in the titles — at any given awards ceremony in India or abroad. A comparitively recent change has been ‘Best Actor-Male, Best Actor- Female’. However, now things look set to transform.

In a major shift, the organisers of Berlin Film Festival have announced that they will stop awarding separate acting prizes to women and men beginning next year, and have made it one awarded for Best Leading Performance. Their aim is for the performance to be defined “gender neutral”. What does this move signal? Does it hold the potential to create a ripple effect across the world?

Do other film awards and festivals need to take the cue and do the same, and not classify an actor’s talent on the basis of gender?


Nandita Das who has served as jury for the prestigious Cannes film festival, feels talent indeed needs to be the only parameter. “Just as scientists or teachers are not divided by gender, why should actors be. When I started acting, 24 years ago, this was not even in the public discourse. Over the years I too have dwindled between calling myself an actor or an actress. But we will have to see how it will really manifest as there aren’t as many amazing parts written for women, as they are for men, so if this is going to mean that more men are going to take the awards, purely because they have more challenging parts, then that would be counter productive,” expresses the 50-year-old filmmaker-actor.

We reach out to Manoj Bajpayee, who remains one of the most awarded actors in India, and also bagged accolades internationally too. He feels that this will have a ‘lot of telling’ on awards to come in the future.

He says, “If anything is making a statement, I am all for it. Gender equality is something that is the need of the time. We all should focus on ability, whichever gender that you are, whichever religion you follow, it shouldn’t matter. I am not interested in that at all, but what ability a man or woman possesses. Other awards should take a cue from this. Whether they take it or not, but this is going to have a long term impact on all festivals.”


Gender neutral awards, strictly on the basis of performance alone, also means that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex (LGBTQI+) actors too can be in the running. Filmmaker Priyadarshan, who was appointed as Chairperson, Feature Films Jury of the 50th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) 2019 and he Central Jury Chairperson of 64th National Awards, expresses his thoughts. “Film awards, except National awards, are a business today. Film festivals always believe in realistic cinema, atleast they should be genuine about whose the best, whether it is a man or woman, it adds more value. All that matters is how good you are in a film, whether it’s a man, woman or transgender, I don’t care. The words we would use are actor, actress, now it’s just actor, and in fact, actresses is wrong English!,” he says.

Das in fact is happy that such a move will not be limited to the binaries of gender. She goes on to add, “The large community of LGBTQA which either is most often not represented or is forced to choose a gender that they may not want to, will surely benefit from this. It is time we acknowledge gender fluidity and appreciate this important move towards inclusivity.”


Alankrita Srivastava has been the maker of films such as Lipstick Under My Burkha, which was awarded at several festivals across India and abroad. Thrilled with the plethora of change that could be in the offing, she says, “I think we need to move beyond gender boundaries and look at performances just for what they are – performances, no matter what the gender of the actor and character.”

Raising a concern however at female actors being sidelined altogether, she adds, “I do hope this does not mean that female actors will be sidelined and prizes will be given to men more substantially than women. Because when it comes to the top film festivals in the world like Cannes – we know that female filmmakers rarely get awarded. So there has to be a mechanism and a consciousness to guard against the sidelining of female actors and other non-male actors.”

Interact with the author on Twitter/ @RishabhSuri02


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