Bella Ramsey Joins Other Non-Binary Actors Including Liv Hewson, Emma Corrin and Asia Kate Dillon In Pushing For Non-Gendered Award Categories

by Carmella D'Acquisto

Rising star Bella Ramsey plays Ellie in HBO’s The Last of Us, a young girl who may hold the key to humanity’s survival in the post-apocalyptic world. In real life, the actor is non-binary, and is now facing a tough choice as award season quickly nears. The actor spoke with Vanity Fair about how they’re approaching their nominations and why it can be a catch-22 to be a non-binary actor in Hollywood.

Ramsey, who uses they/them pronouns, admitted that their decision to submit as an actress for this year’s Emmys came after a lot of deliberation, and some discomfort. “The categories at the moment feel extremely gendered with the language around them,” they said. And while they’re “uncomfortable” fitting into either a male or female lead-acting nomination, they decided to move forward in the female category because they deserve to see their hard work honored.

“I don’t want the limitations in terms of the language in the categories to be a reason that nonbinary actors like me can’t be celebrated,” Ramsey explained to Vanity Fair. “And it can open up a conversation about how it feels—as long as I’m aware of the fact that it’s not ideal, but also that finding alternatives is really complex.”

This is not a new discussion, Ramsey is the latest non-binary celebrity to voice concerns about the gendered categories of awards ceremonies. A few weeks ago, Liv Hewson of Yellowjackets withdrew their Emmy nomination because there are no categories for non-binary performers.

“There’s no place for me in the acting categories,” Hewson told Variety. “It would be inaccurate for me to submit myself as an actress. It neither makes sense for me to be lumped in with the boys. It’s quite straightforward and not that loaded. I can’t submit myself for this because there’s no space for me.”

This movement seems to be in the zeitgeist. As more performers come forward and demand non-gendered categories, the pressure builds for institutions including the Academy Awards, The Emmys, The Tonys, and other arts and culture award ceremonies. According to Vanity Fair, celebrities like Emma Corrin (The Crown) and Asia Kate Dillon Billions, Orange Is the New Black) are calling for non-gendered performance categories.

And it really makes sense. Outside of lead and supporting performers, generally, award categories are not gendered. Academy Award categories like Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, and Best Director are not gendered– they simply celebrate the best talent. The only gendered categories in the Tonys are Best Actor/Actress in a Musical or Play and Best Featured Actor/Actress in a Musical or Play. There are 28 non-gendered Tony awards.

It’s possible that there was a time where these gendered categories helped to ensure that women were not being consistently snubbed. And it’s true that in non-gendered categories, men continue to dominate, while women are continually either excluded, or not awarded. In fact, according to a study by Medium, only 16% of ALL nominees since the beginning of the Academy Awards have been women– this number includes nominees for “best actress” and “best supporting actress.” Lack of recognition continues to be an issue for women. How can these institutions ensure women are represented without forcing non-binary performers to succumb to gendered nominations?

According to Vanity Fair, “The Film Academy is said to be researching the matter while allowing nominees to request gender-neutral wording on their awards; the Tonys more seriously considering imminent gender-neutral adjustments; and the Television Academy emphasizing the new option to adjust the language on an Emmy trophy or nomination certificate, from actor or actress to performer.”

“Eliminating two of the acting awards doesn’t sound like a movement in that direction,” said Josh Welsh, President of Film Independent to Vanity Fair. “Award shows generally don’t want to lose acting categories. People are most excited about actors.”

While it would seem like a major change for these legacy institutions, the solution likely lies in expansion, not elimination. While this year’s awards season may go on as it always has, sooner or later these powerhouse institutions will have to come forward with a solution.

We have to agree with Liv Hewson here– “I very gently and respectfully ask that people get their gears turning a little.”

Top photo: courtesy of HBO

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