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Arts and Culture

Encore: Pondering A Genderless Oscar Telecast

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Women had a very good year at the Oscars 10 years ago. Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman ever to win Best Director, and her film "The Hurt Locker" won Best Picture. There has been some backsliding since then, which makes a proposal our critic Bob Mondello made a month before that year's Oscar telecast seem worth another listen. Here it is as it aired in 2010.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BOB MONDELLO: As long as we're having categories with 10 nominees, I know how the Academy can save time, eliminate two acceptance speeches and strike a blow against sexism all in one fell swoop. Just make the Oscars gender-neutral. Nobody says best director and best directress or best editor and best editress, so why best actor and best actress? Combine them and let the best performer win. I mean, seriously, who cares about Colin Firth versus George Clooney when you can pit Sandra Bullock against Jeff Bridges in a brawl of the drawls?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BLIND SIDE")

SANDRA BULLOCK: (As Leigh Anne Tuohy) I don't need y'all to approve my choices, all right? But I do ask that you respect them.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CRAZY HEART")

JEFF BRIDGES: (As Bad Blake) I'm Bad Blake. When I die, the tombstone will have my real name on it. Until then, I'm just going to stay bad.

MONDELLO: Now, I can just hear the objections to combining categories. Men get all the roles. They're higher-paid. Their pictures have bigger budgets. And let me concede most of that but note that it's new. I'm guessing the Motion Picture Academy's original logic for separating the acting awards by gender was that if they hadn't in the 1920s and '30s, Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo would've walked off with all the trophies. Take 1935. It was such a good year for the likes of Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Merle Oberon and Claudette Colbert that they had to add a sixth slot in the best actress category. The men, meanwhile, couldn't even field a full slate - only four nominees, and the three who didn't win all came from one picture, "Mutiny On The Bounty."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY")

CHARLES LAUGHTON: (As Captain William Bligh) You're sending me to my doom, eh? I'll live to see you - all of you - hanging from the highest yardarm in the British fleet.

MONDELLO: Who knows what they'd have done if the bounty hadn't sailed until the following year? Yes, of course, the game has changed since then but in a way that could actually work against men at Oscar time. Men monopolize blockbusters, which never win acting awards. You want that neutered gold statue these days, you have to play in what used to be called women's pictures, something more touchy-feely. Besides, acting's not like a shotput competition. Body mass and physical strength don't give men an advantage when it comes to emoting effectively. I mean, look at this year's supporting actor nominees. No disrespect to Matt Damon's rugby playing or Woody Harrelson's crying, Christopher Plummer's erudite dithering or the respective killing styles of Stanley Tucci and Christoph Waltz, but not one of those guys would stand a chance if he had to compete with Mo'Nique's ferociously manipulative mom.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PRECIOUS")

MO'NIQUE: (As Mary) So those things that she told you I did to her - who else was going to love me? Who was going to make me feel good?

MONDELLO: The academy will almost certainly make Mo'Nique feel good on Oscar night, and that would be no less true if she were competing with the boys. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WINNER TAKES IT ALL")

MERYL STREEP: (Singing) The winner takes it all.

KELLY: A proposal for genderless acting Oscars from 2010.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WINNER TAKES IT ALL")

STREEP: (Singing) The loser's standing small beside the victory. That's her destiny. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.