Emma Watson became the first person to win the MTV Movie and TV Awards’ new gender-neutral Best Actor in a Movie award Sunday night for her performance as Belle in “Beauty and the Beast.” The awards show also added a gender-less best actor category for television.
These are the first major gender-neutral acting awards. Most, like the Golden Globes and the Oscars, have separate categories for actors and actresses.
After being handed a small red statue in the shape of an overflowing bucket of movie popcorn, Watson launched into an emotional speech that lasted more than three minutes about the newly created categories.
“The first acting award in history that doesn’t separate nominees based on their sex says something about how we perceive the human experience,” she said.
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“MTV’s move to create a genderless award for acting will mean something different to everyone,” added Watson. “But to me, it indicates that acting is about the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. And that doesn’t need to be separated into two different categories.”
She continued, thanking Asia Kate Dillon, the “Billions” actor who presented the award to Watson.
Dillon, who identifies as gender non-binary, sparked conversation about the gendered categories in major acting awards earlier this year when Showtime submitted Dillon’s performance for the Emmys. No one, Dillon included, knew which category to choose for submission: best actor or best actress.
So Dillon wrote a letter to the Television Academy.
“I’d like to know if in your eyes ‘actor’ and ‘actress’ denote anatomy or identity and why it is necessary to denote either in the first place?” Dillon asked in the letter. “The reason I’m hoping to engage you in a conversation about this is because if the categories of ‘actor’ and ‘actress’ are in fact supposed to represent ‘best performance by a person who identifies as a woman’ and ‘best performance by a person who identifies as a man’ then there is no room for my identity within that award system binary.”
The academy told Dillon the rules state “anyone can submit under either category for any reason.”
“This is very meaningful to me,” Watson said. “Both to be winning the award and to be receiving it from you, Asia. Thank you for educating me in such - in such an inclusive, patient, and loving way. Thank you so much.”
She continued by praising the character of Belle.
“The villagers in our fairy tale wanted to make Belle believe that the world is smaller than the way she saw it, with fewer opportunities for her – that her curiosity and passion for knowledge and her desire for more in life were grounds for alienation,” she said. “I loved playing someone who didn’t listen to any of that. I’m so proud to be a part of a film that celebrates diversity, literacy, inclusion, joy, and love the way that this one does.”
The general reaction to Sunday’s speech was positive, as summed up in several web publication headlines. The HuffPost’s headline claimed the speech “Left Us All Feeling Inspired.” Mashable’s called it “majorly inspiring, duh.” MTV, perhaps self-servingly, called it both “beautiful” and “super inspiring.”
One Twitter user called her “definitely a showstopper.” Another called the speech and the award, “perfect antidote to all the vile old white men.”
Perez Hilton pointed out that it “went long” but called the speech “great.”
Others, though, criticized Watson for speech’s length, while some mocked her for giving sharing such thoughts at the MTV Awards (instead of the Oscars).
Watson’s fans, though, likely weren’t surprised by the political bent of her speech.
The actress, after all, has long been outspoken on issues such as inclusion and gender equality. After graduating from Brown University, she was appointed a United Nations women’s goodwill ambassador in July 2014 where she served as an advocate for HeForShe, a program that hopes “to mobilize 1 billion men to accelerate the achievement of gender equality.”
She became so associated with feminism that many criticized her for appearing in a revealing photo in Vanity Fair, showing her breasts loosely covered by a white crocheted capelet.
And, indeed, Watson had activism on her mind Sunday night. As Seventeen pointed out, pinned to the belt of her sequin-covered dress was a robin egg’s blue ampersand, the symbol for GLAAD, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group.
“Together, we resist the powers that seek to divide us. We must stand in solidarity,” the GLAAD website said. “All of us. Because no one is just one identity, and many of us are under attack. All marginalized communities are under attack. The ampersand is the symbol that unites us.”