The Non-Binary Oscars: A Decade of What Ifs

Actor Asia Kate Dillon has been in a lot of things I haven't seen, but crossed my path by playing the Adjudicator in the amazing  John Wick 3.  They are non-binary, preferring they/them pronouns.  They recently wrote a letter to the Screen Actors Guild asking SAG to abolish gender-specific acting categories.

It's an interesting idea.  If men and women (and everyone in between) are equal, is there really a need for separate acting categories based on gender or sex?  SAG already uses the ungendered "actor" to describe its members (pay attention at the beginning of every SAG awards when various members introduce themselves, they all invariably say that they are an "actor").  Why maintain a distinction for a common job and job title?  And why stop at the SAG Awards?

But wait, some might argue.  Won't that result in women getting left out of awards in a still-male-dominated industry?  Let's take a look.  Rather than address the SAG Awards themselves, I'm instead going to pick the Non-Binary Acting Oscars for the past ten years.  I'm not the Academy, but recent years have shown that my assessment and theirs has been pretty close.  I'm picking both leading and supporting categories, which I think are still distinctive because of what each category is asked to do (carry a film versus providing a significant counter-punch to the film's stars).


Binary category winners: Joaquin Phoenix (Best Actor), Renee Zellweger (Actress), Brad Pitt (Supporting Actor), Laura Dern (Supporting Actress)

Non-binary winners: Phoenix and Pitt

Zellweger's job as Judy Garland would be a winner for me in most years (it's seriously that good in a film that's criminally underwatched), but it's up against a historically good job by Phoenix in a performance that manages to match up well against Heath Ledger's prior Oscar-winning portrayal of the Joker.

The supporting race is a little unfair, as Pitt is really a second leading actor in his film, while Dern's is a classic supporting role.  Still, until the Academy fixes its rules on how to determine if something is a feature or supporting performance, Pitt gets my vote.


Binary category winners: Rami Malek (Actor), Olivia Coleman (Actress), Mahershala Ali (Supporting Actor), Regina King (Supporting Actress)

Non-binary winners: Malek and King

The feature category was an easy call, as it's not clear to me Coleman's role as Queen Anne wasn't actually a supporting role in her own movie.  In the meantime, Malek jumps off the screen as Freddie Mercury, one of those performances where the actor disappears and you find you've been watching the person he's portraying for two hours instead.

The supporting category pits one of those "not really a supporting role" kinds of performances against a performance that's brief but features one of those classic Hollywood memorable moments.  Ali is essentially a second star of Green Book, and though he's very strong in it, it's going to go down as one of those Oscar winning films that doesn't age well.  On the other hand, while King does not get all that much to do in If Beale Street Could Talk, her character's breakdown after unsuccessfully trying to negotiate help for her imprisoned son was one of those scenes that anchors a career highlight reel.


Binary category winners: Gary Oldman (Actor), Frances McDormand (Actress), Sam Rockwell (Supporting Actor), Allison Janney (Supporting Actress)

Non-binary winners: McDormand and Rockwell

This was an incredibly competitive year.  McDormand was powerful as a grieving mother out for justice, and just barely eked out my vote over Oldman's strong performance as Churchill.  Her co-star Rockwell pulled off one of the most complex roles this decade as a violent racist who somehow still manages to be a hero when needed.  Janney's dysfunctional mother was memorable, but doesn't come close to the degree of difficulty that Rockwell surmounted.


Binary category winners: Casey Affleck (Actor), Emma Stone (Actress), Mahershala Ali (Supporting Actor), Viola Davis (Supporting Actress)

Non-binary winners: Stone and Davis

Neither race is very competitive.  Stone acted, sang, and danced her way to the statue while Affleck moped and wisecracked.  The competition would have been stiffer if the Best (male) Actor nod went to Denzel Washington for Fences instead, but I think Stone might have still squeaked that one out.

Viola Davis not only would win the non-binary Supporting Actor statue, she would have won a combined acting award as well.  As I noted in my writeup of the 2017 Oscars, she really should have been nominated in the Best Actress category, where her performance would have easily won, but instead took advantage of being put up in the supporting category for a role she won a Tony as a best featured actress for on Broadway.


Binary category winners: Leonardo DiCaprio (Actor), Brie Larson (Actress), Mark Rylance (Supporting Actor), Alicia Vikander (Supporting Actress)

Non-binary winners: Larson and Vikander

When I picked my Oscar winners for 2016, I didn't even give the Best (male) Actor nod to DiCaprio, thinking Redmayne should have been given a second straight statue for The Danish Girl.  In the meantime, Larson did a lot of heavy lifting in Room.  Her portrayal was on point and powerful.  If Redmayne had been in consideration, I think I'd have given him the nod, but either way, I don't feel bad at all with Larson taking home the non-binary feature actor Oscar.

The supporting race isn't much of a race.  Rylance was a delight in Bridge of Spies, but Vikander leapt off the screen in The Danish Girl in a role that bordered on being a featured performance.


Binary category winners: Eddie Redmayne (Actor), Julianna Moore (Actress), J.K. Simmons (Supporting Actor), Patricia Arquette (Supporting Actress)

Non-binary winners: Redmayne and Simmons

This was perhaps the least competitive year among the non-binary Oscars this decade.  Redmayne immersed himself into Stephen Hawking, a role that was mentally, emotionally, and physically demanding.  Simmons put out an iconic performance in what was one of those "made for this actor" performances as the bullying teacher in Whiplash.


Binary category winners: Matthew McConaughey (Actor), Cate Blanchett (Actress), Jared Leto (Supporting Actor), Lupita Nyong'o (Supporting Actress)

Non-binary winners: McConaughey and Leto

This was kind of a week year in the acting categories compared to most years, but both Dallas Buyers Club stars put in strong work as AIDS patients building a black market treatment infrastructure for people suffering with the disease.  Blanchett was easier to eliminate from her category than Nyong'o, but Leto did such a strong job in his role that I had to go for the sweep.


Binary category winners: Daniel Day-Lewis (Actor), Jennifer Lawrence (Actress), Christoph Waltz (Supporting Actor), Anne Hathaway (Supporting Actress)

Non-binary winners: Day-Lewis and Hathaway

Day-Lewis's portrayal of Lincoln was the performance of a lifetime.  As excellent as Lawrence was in Silver Linings Playbook, it's just not in the same stratosphere.  Neither is any other performance on this list.

Anne Hathaway wins the non-binary supporting actor trophy for acting and singing her guts out in what otherwise was a perfectly forgettable adaptation of Les Miserables.


Binary category winners: Jean Dujardin (Actor), Meryl Streep (Actress), Christopher Plummer (Supporting Actor), Octavia Spencer (Supporting Actress)

Non-binary winners: Streep and Spencer

Meryl Streep is the easy call in the feature actor category, playing Margaret Thatcher, over Jean Dujardin's silent picture star.

In the supporting category, I never saw Plummer's performance, but I feel it's safe to assume that Octavia Spencer's lively performance in The Help would win even if it weren't by default.


Binary category winners: Colin Firth (Actor), Natalie Portman (Actress), Christian Bale (Supporting Actor), Melissa Leo (Supporting Actress)

Non-binary winners: Firth and Bale

The feature actor category is a tough battle between Firth, who gave a powerful performance as a very real and human king, and Portman, who took her character through the depths of madness.  Ultimately, I went with The King's Speech star, partly because I didn't care much for Black Swan, and and partly because, ultimately, Firth's King George VI was a more complex character than Portman's Nina.  But it was close.

The supporting actor category was an easy call because Bale was pretty much the reason to watch The Fighter.  He was absolutely riveting.

So there you have it, a decade of non-binary winners.  Eleven men and nine women selected not for parity but because of the job they did in their work that particular year.  I think it could work.

JL Franke is a fan of both hard science fiction and hard fantasy.  He has been collecting comics for over 40 years and has been an on-and-off active member of online fandom for 25.  Those interested can find other writings at his personal blog,  When not geeking out, you may find him at a baseball park or cheering on his favorite college and pro football teams.  In his spare time, he is chief scientist for a research and development laboratory somewhere in the Washington, DC greater metropolitan area.
The Non-Binary Oscars: A Decade of What Ifs The Non-Binary Oscars: A Decade of What Ifs Reviewed by JL Franke on Sunday, June 14, 2020 Rating: 5
Powered by Blogger.