Emma Watson makes history with her gender-neutral award acceptance speech

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Moya Crockett
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Emma Watson was declared Best Actor in a Movie at the MTV Movie & TV Awards on Sunday night, for her role in Beauty and the Beast.

The award – the first major gong Watson has received for her starring role as Belle – was a personally significant one for the 27-year-old actor. But as the first gender-neutral acting award in history, it also represented a ground-breaking moment for awards ceremonies in general.

Watson was up against Taraji P. Henson, Daniel Kaluuya, James McAvoy and Hailee Steinfeld for the “gender-free” Best Actor award, for their roles in Hidden Figures, Get Out, Split and The Edge of Seventeen respectively.

In an emotional acceptance speech, Watson paid tribute to the philosophy behind her MTV Movie award.

“I feel I have to say something about the award itself – the first acting award in history that doesn’t separate nominees based on their sex,” she said.

“It says something about how we perceive the human experience.”

Watson continued: “MTV’s move to create a genderless award for acting will mean something different for everyone, but to me it indicates that acting is about the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes – and that doesn't need to be separated into two different categories.”

“Empathy and the ability to use your imagination should have no limits.”

The Beauty and the Beast actor was presented with the award by Asia Kate Dillon, who plays “genderqueer” character Taylor Mason in TV show Billions. Dillon was born female but identifies as non-binary, and made headlines earlier this year when they submitted their name for an Emmy Award in the ‘Actor’ rather than ‘Actress’ category, because the former is a more gender-neutral word.

In her acceptance speech, Watson singled out Dillon for praise, saying: “This is very meaningful for me both to be winning the award and to be receiving it from you, Asia.

“Thank you for educating me in such an inclusive, patient and loving way.”

UN ambassador Watson spoke extensively in the run-up to Beauty and the Beast’s release about her desire to make Belle a more “feminist” Disney princess. During her acceptance speech, she said that she thought she had been given the award “because of who Belle is and what she represents.

“The villagers in our fairy tale wanted to make Belle believe that the world is smaller than the way she saw it, with fewer opportunities for her – that her curiosity and passion for knowledge and her desire for more in life were grounds for alienation,” said Watson.

“I loved playing someone who didn’t listen to any of that,” she continued.

“I’m so proud to be a part of a film that celebrates diversity, literacy, inclusion, joy, and love the way that this one does.”

Millie Bobby Brown was the first actor to win a gender-neutral Best Actor in a Show award, for her role as Eleven in Netflix’s hit sci-fi mystery series Stranger Things. In her acceptance speech, the 13-year-old British actor thanked the show’s creators for creating “a badass female iconic character that I’ve got the honour to play.”

With the inevitability of the sun rising in the east and all the nuance of the Kool-Aid man crashing through a wall, Piers Morgan was quick to cast aspersions over MTV’s introduction of gender-neutral awards.

Speaking on This Morning on Monday, the TV presenter – who unwittingly emulates Grandpa Simpson yelling at a cloud on a daily basis – Morgan said: “‘Should we ban the word man from life itself? Should nothing anymore be male or female?”

“Little babies just be little babies, no longer boys and girls?” Morgan continued. “Should it all just be ended? Should we end gender as we know it? Is it the end of gender?”

It was an interestingly neurotic take from a man known for accusing those he disagrees with of “hysteria” and “overreaction” – but Morgan did also display a heretofore unseen capacity for self-reflection.

“Am I wrong?” he asked. “Is it just me, or am I a creaking old dinosaur that doesn’t get it?”

We’ll let you be the judge of that one.

Images: Rex Features