The Berlin Film Festival Announces Gender Neutral Awards for 2021

The Berlinale Bear in the Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz (Courtesy Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin Press Office)

The Berlinale Bear in the Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz (Courtesy Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin Press Office)

By Kate Button, Arts Writer, Copy Editor


On Aug. 24, the Berlin Film Festival announced that the festival will be updating its performance awards to be gender-neutral in 2021. The Berlinale plans to utilize a hybrid model for next year’s festival and film market, and in addition to accommodating recent changes because of the pandemic, this festival also wants to work towards becoming more gender-inclusive by rejecting the typical gender binaries in performance awards. 

Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian, the director duo of the Berlinale, said, “We believe that not separating the awards in the acting field according to gender comprises a signal for a more gender-sensitive awareness in the film industry.”

The festival’s awards, the Silver Bear prizes, had previously been delineated according to “Best Actor” and “Best Actress.” The awards in 2021, however, will be more gender-inclusive with titles like “Best Leading Performance” and “Best Supporting Performance.” The remaining prizes — limited in number due to changes from the pandemic — are gender-neutral. The 2021 festival will feature these “performance” prizes, a Golden Bear for Best Film and Silver Bear prizes for Best Director, Best Screenplay and Outstanding Artistic Contribution, as well as Grand Jury Prize and Jury Prize. 

Recently, the Berlin Film Festival has been reckoning with some of its former awards. During the Berlin Film Festival in early 2020, the former “Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize” was suspended after a discovery that Bauer — the festival’s first director — had ties to the Nazi Party. 

In 2012, the Grammys became a gender-neutral award show, and in 2017, the MTV Movie & TV Awards included new gender-neutral awards for “Best Actor in a Movie” and “Best Actor in a Show.” These MTV awards marked the first time gender-neutral categories were used for acting, but this initial turn towards gender-neutral acting awards was marked with controversy. Some believed that the traditional men and women’s distinctions should remain in order to encourage Hollywood and award systems to recognize female contributions to this male-dominated field. Yet, for individuals who don’t identify with this strict gender binary, these traditional award lines are alienating. 

With the change to make performance awards gender-neutral, traditional gender binaries can be forgotten and actors who don’t conform to this binary will be accepted and have the opportunity to be awarded for their work. 

“Festivals and markets are places of encounter and communication. This applies to the public as well as to the industry. We see an important and unique feature of festivals in their lively relationship with the audience. In times of the corona pandemic, it has become even clearer that we still require analog experience spaces in the cultural realm,” said Rissenbeek and Chatrian.

As with the pandemic, changes have to be made to ensure safe spaces for all. This same approach should be applied to the awards at these festivals in order to signal a cultural shift towards greater acceptance of all people — no matter their gender identity. 


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