Disclaimer: I cannot remember the last time I watched the MTV Movie Awards (now The MTV Movie and TV Awards). However, I do not think this excludes me from partaking in a conversation about the ceremony and its recent changes or the culture in which it’s taking place.
Last month the network announced that it would be including television in its annual movie awards roundup – nominated by producers and executives at the company, decided by the general public online (I have a very faint memory of voting when I was younger on an antiquated desktop PC) – and just last week they announced that they’d be doing away with gendered categories as well as adding new and revamped ones. Best Actor and Best Actress will now be merged; new categories will include Best Tearjerker, Best Host, Best Reality Competition, Best American Story, and additionally Best Fight Against the System (previously just Best Fight).
Now let’s get this straight: it’s not about the result, but the shift it signals. I’ve read articles referencing folks that are up in arms that this’ll make the lack of recognition of female-identified talent even worse (like the Oscars’ consistent snubs). I can’t even imagine what people are saying about the new and revamped ones (well I can, but I prefer not to). Opening up space for trans, nonbinary, and genderqueer folks is important – especially considering the dearth of content that casts them, either in lead or supporting roles.
The work doesn’t end there, although it’s a start. Purveyors of content need to begin recognizing opportunities, and opening up this space is a step in the right direction. Since the beginning of last year, 2016, reviewing the films I saw theatrically, I don’t think I came across one with someone not cisgendered in either a lead or a supporting performance. Considering I get to the theater a lot, variably, and have arguably diverse interests, this seems appalling – dividedly between casting directors, distributors, and viewers. For us to actualize this reality, we must put in the work, and the work is not simply opening up the space but also executing the platform and cultivating the community.
The wealth of nominations for Get Out, as well as female nominations and the Moonlight (above) Best Kiss nod point to some progress though. Jordan Peele’s dually artful and record-breaking debut feature has had unprecedented success at the box office as well as with critics and audiences alike – who would have thought a film that plays on horror iconography and tropes to show the disingenuousness of liberal anti-black racism (and “to critique Whiteness and white fears” as writer and educator Law Ware notes) would be so successful? The Best Kiss nod for Moonlight warms my heart in a lot of ways – for queer people, and in particular for black and brown boys who never see their realities reflected on screen, it’s actually intensely meaningful. Seeing Moonlight take Best Picture (sadly being denied its moment because of the flub) right after going to a Get Out screening felt crazy. It really felt like the tide was changing – if not on a rolling basis, then momentarily at least.