Emmy Awards organizers have told non-binary actor Asia Kate Dillon that they can choose their acting category after receiving an impassioned letter from the star.
Dillon has been lighting up the screen this year with their portrayal of Taylor Mason on Showtime’s Billions, widely considered to be the first non-binary character on TV.
Their impressive performance as the financial genius has led the network to submit their name for an Emmy nomination.
When Showtime asked Dillon whether they wanted to be nominated under the Best Supporting Actor or Best Supporting Actress category, the gender non-binary performer did some homework to make sure they made an informed decision that respected their identity.
“What I learned through my research is that the word ‘actor,’ specifically in reference to those who performed in plays, came about in the late 1500s as a non-gendered word,” Dillon told Variety. “It applied to all people, regardless of anatomical sex or gender identity.”
After doing their research, they sent a heartfelt letter to the Television Academy, questioning the gender-specific nature of their acting categories.
“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?” they asked. “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.”
“Furthermore, if the categories of ‘actor’ and ‘actress’ are meant to denote assigned sex I ask, respectfully, why is that necessary?”
The academy responded quickly to the letter and engaged in what Dillon described as a thoughtful exchange on gender identity. The Billions star was told that Academy rules stipulate that “anyone can submit under either category for any reason.”
“The Academy supports anyone’s choice to do that, and the Academy is not going to do any sort of check,” Dillon clarified, adding, “I found them to be 100% supportive. I really couldn’t have been happier.”
“We are happy with our productive dialogue with Asia based on their very thoughtful letter,” a spokesperson for the TV Academy told Variety. “The Television Academy celebrates inclusiveness, and as we discussed with Asia, there is no gender requirement for the various performer categories. Asia is free to choose the category they wish to enter.”
Dillon ultimately decided to enter as a supporting actor and hopes this moment will spark a dialogue about category definitions.
“I can only speak to the world in which I wish to live,” said Dillon. “I think this is a really good place to start a larger conversation about the categories themselves, and what changes are possible and what may or may not be coming. I’m excited to see what other people think, and what they want to say once they become aware of this.”