Monica Hesse of the Washington Post wonders if having separate Oscar categories for Best Actor and Best Actress is really necessary or fair, seeing as the other major Academy Award categories aren't separated by gender.
"Why do we compartmentalize the performers, into Best Actor and Actress, or Supporting Actor and Actress? Why not Jolie vs. Jenkins?" Hesse writes, "If good acting is good acting, should chromosomes play a role at all?" Debra Zimmerman, executive director of Women Make Movies, explains the need for two separate categories as such: "It's already so impossible for women to win anything," If the academy "got rid of Actress, they would win nothing at all."
Hesse admits that the nominations are, in fact, stacked in men's favor: "Though the category is technically gender neutral, each of the five nominated films lists all-male teams. All five of the Best Director nominees are men; so are all of the nominees listed for film editing, music scoring, adapted screenplay, cinematography and — wait for it — makeup."
And yet while the other major categories don't have gender specific titles, the fact is, people tune in to see celebrities: on the red carpet, in the audience, and on the stage. Combining both acting categories in to one major acting award lessens the amount of nominees, and therefore, the amount of celebrities who get a sweeping round of publicity and buzz in the few weeks prior to the ceremony. Cutting the major star power in half would sink Oscar ratings even lower. Having two separate categories may be more of a strategic publicity decision than a statement on gender.
Though perhaps the best argument for two separate categories comes from our own Dodai Stewart, who has written on this very subject before: Dodai is quoted in the article, providing this answer to Hesse's question: "Very rarely are there roles where directors are just looking for an actor, regardless of the gender. If a man and a woman aren't being considered for the same role, then why would they be considered for the same award?"
"Stewart's argument is startlingly sensible," Hesse writes. Naturally!