Penned by a LAFCA member, here’s a response to the 12.27 L.A Times editorial about the advisability of going gender-neutral with Oscar acting noms:

Since 1929, the Academy Award of Merit (aka Oscar) has been awarded to artists by artists. Less than a decade after the 19th amendment granted women the right to vote, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences created the categories of Best Actor and Best Actress, not as artifacts of a patriarchal, oppressive past but harbingers of a more progressive future in which the inseparability of sex and performance was acknowledged — and celebrated at parity.

This model has held for nearly a century because it is understood that actors bring more than simply talent to their craft — they bring the intractible experience of life as either male or female.

It is no surprise that recent calls to abolish these categories, including gender-neutral moves by the Spirit Awards, the Gotham Awards and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, originate outside the profession and community of actors most impacted by them. These are efforts to change longstanding practice not at the behest of performers or for the betterment of the art, but to serve a broader, relatively recent agenda that presumes to achieve “equality” through the erasure of any recognized distinctions between the sexes. We reject these efforts as regressive and misogynist and call on the Academy and other organizations to do likewise.

It is especially disconcerting that this pressure campaign comes during a year with no fewer than three major awards contenders — The Woman King, Women Talking and She Said — singularly centered on the unique experiences of women. That all three films were also written and directed by women is a laudable step in the right direction — but could they have been just as easily written and directed by men? Absolutely. Could their predominantly female casts have been replaced by men? Categorically not. This is the distinction that advocates of genderless categories ignore.

Cate Blanchett and Michelle Yeoh are already heavy awards season Best Actress favorites for their respective performances in Tàr and Everything Everywhere All at Once. But their achievements are more than great acting — the characters depicted are wives and mothers, women struggling to meet unequal expectations in a male-dominated world. These are parts defined by their explorations of womanhood, elevated by great actresses with the irreplaceable experience of being women.

The same may be said on the other side of the equation — Colin Farrell and Bill Nighy‘s respective performances in The Banshees of Inisherin and Living are likewise rooted in their irreplaceable experiences as men. Living, adapted from Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 film Ikiru, is a noteworthy case in point. Though separated by seventy years and two continents, Bill Nighy and Takashi Shimura face precisely the same realities — experiences which transcend culture while being bound by sex.

Actors and actresses all understand that their career paths diverge based on sex and that this constitutes an opportunity, not a handicap. We should not expect or want Frances McDormand to play Macbeth any more than we should want Denzel Washington to play Lady Macbeth as the resulting performances would ring false, lacking the emotional resonance with which cinema connects the lived experiences of performers and audiences.

These are distinctions borne of material reality — not culture — and removing that reality from acting categories will not remove that reality from life. It will, however, make films less honest, more ideological and less connected to the hopes, dreams and life experiences of audiences.

At a deeper level, sex-based acting categories have been a longstanding cudgel against sex stereotypes — with separate categories celebrating the immense diversity of both women and men without denying their differences, and furnishing aspiring performers and artists their essential role models since the days of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. If the biological differences between men and women are sufficient to justify sex-segregated sports, how much greater are divergent life experiences a justification for the proud tradition of Best Actor and Best Actress?

A more honest pressure campaign would have challenged the categories of Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, which were added in 1936. The distinctions between lead and supporting have always been flimsier and more prone to manipulation by studios — yet there have been no such calls for the eradication of these categories on grounds of “equality” because the voices behind the calls are not honest. Even the groups which have made such changes remain deeply divided and defensive about them.

The Los Angeles Film Critics passed their change by a single vote and a plurality which still did not represent a majority of the voting membership. Film Independent President Josh Welsh, meanwhile, has acknowledged division within the organization but routinely declines to comment further or give any interviews but to “friendly” outlets.

For its part, the Academy is no stranger to bullies and pressure campaigns — attempts to leverage the organization and its awards in the service of assorted agendas are as old as the Academy itself. But the last decade has seen the organization’s stakes significantly raised. Telecast ratings have collapsed, in large part because the organization and its honorees are seen as increasingly disconnected from its once reliable television audience of tens of millions. Bowing to fringe pressures at this fragile point in time would spell certain disaster for the organization’s legitimacy and the telecast’s ratings.

Many seem to have forgotten that the “me” in #MeToo” is female, and that the “too” is a call to female unity, a movement borne of the courage of actresses who fought back against the predations of a famous producer and the imbalance of power they have always faced within their industry. The farce of “genderless” acting categories will not remedy these problems. If anything, it’s likely to make them worse by pretending the underlying problems don’t exist.

The voices lobbying for such changes are both dishonest and disconnected from reality, The Academy needs to ignore them.