The Flemish film and television awards are facing calls to temporarily do away with gender-neutral categories amid concerns that the switch has left women routinely shut out of the top awards.
At the Ensors awards on Saturday male actors cleaned up the categories for best lead and supporting actors. It was an echo of 2022 – the first year that the awards ceremony axed gendered categories – when men also walked away with each of the four awards recognising the best actors.
The results prompted calls to temporarily revert back to the traditional format. “I think we should abolish it for a while and look for another way,” actor Aimé Claeys, who won best lead actor for the TV series 1985, told the Flemish public broadcaster VRT. “Because there are just as many women who deserve just as much to win such prizes. But it’s not working yet.”
The debate has cropped up since award ceremonies around the world began scrapping gendered categories. Last year the Brit awards, which went gender neutral in 2021 after realising that the categories excluded non-binary people, faced a backlash after the nominees for best artists were all male.
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At Saturday’s Ensors awards, held in Ostend, Belgium, the actor Stef Aerts said he recognised that the switch had been made with “good intentions” but had perhaps come too soon because of the barriers that remain for women in the industry, such as the “very different roles” being written for men and women.
Aerts said: “Once we’ve made that change, then maybe the awards can follow. But I think at the moment it’s just a bit too early.”
As a result, the gender neutral awards end up “missing the mark” said Aerts, shortly after winning best supporting performance for the film Wil. “It’s nonsense that there are no women at the podium.”
In the run-up to the awards, women had accounted for half of the nominees for the top acting categories, said Wim Vanseveren, the chair of the academy that represents professionals from the Flemish audiovisual sector. “We are very satisfied, although there could certainly have been more diversity in the result,” Vanseveren told VRT.
About 55% of the members of the academy are male, he said, though he did not know the gender breakdown of the 600 or so members of the academy who had cast their vote for the awards. “And that does not mean that men necessarily voted for men or vice versa. We all want to look at that,” he said.
He cautioned against drawing hasty conclusions over this year’s result. “It’s not necessarily the case that gender-neutral prizes always lead to something like this,” he said.
Each year after the ceremony, the academy carries out a “thorough” evaluation, he said. “This year will be no different. We want to do this with an open mind and draw conclusions based on facts and figures.”
It is not the first time the Ensors awards have come under fire over the decision to do away with gendered categories. Last year the actor Veerle Baetens of the Oscar-nominated The Broken Circle Breakdown, laid bare what she saw as the shortcomings of the decision in an interview with the film magazine Fade to Her.
“Last year, we had the Flemish film awards and they wanted to make a gender neutral prize,” she said when asked for her thoughts on the situation of women in film today. “And so, we had four women and four men nominated, but all four men won because their characters are far more interesting, far more exotic to see.”
She continued: “They have flaws, they can be dirty, they can be everything while women still can’t.”