Courtesy Screen Actors Guild
As Hollywood's best and brightest actors gear up for tonight's Screen Actors Guild Awards, there are a lot of hot topics. Will Leonardo DiCaprio continue his reign of awards season success? Will Jon Hamm take home a statue on his last chance for the epic Mad Men? Will Viola Davis knock her speech out of the park again (assuming she wins, of course)?
And most of all, the issue buzzing around the industry is that of the scary and disappointing lack of diversity at next month's Academy Awards. The whitewashing of Hollywood (and at the 2016 Oscars most notably) is both widespread and deeply felt, and is guaranteed to be the talk of the town on the SAG Awards red carpet, in the press room, and, hopefully, in acceptance speeches as well. But as we all discuss the problem at length, it's worth noting that the outrage directed towards the Oscars doesn't seem to be felt going into this weekend's festivities.
In fact, there was almost no backlash whatsoever after the nominations went out last month. The SAG Awards are often closely watched as the most reliable predictor of the upcoming Oscars results, so why is it that the field of contenders feels ever-so-slightly more balanced than its counterpart?
To start, it's worth revisiting the painfully real Oscars snubs, for a reminder of the disparity at the very least. (It's hard to put this show's complete and utter whiteness into words, but let us try.) On a broad scale, not a single person of color was nominated for any of the four acting categories; no person of color featured prominently in any of the Best Picture nominees; only one non-Caucasian was nominated for Best Director category. And, lest we step off our soapbox too quickly, women were again completely shut out of the latter section. But that's another matter; on to the individual snubs!
Straight Outta Compton, which broke many a box office record (and expectation) received no nods for Best Picture or any of the acting categories. It did, however, receive a screenwriting nom, but that award, if won, will be given to a white man and woman. Go figure. Beasts of No Nation and Concussion received zero nominations, and Creed was recognized only for Sylvester Stallone's work, snubbing both supporting actor Michael B. Jordan and director Ryan Coogler. There are surely more projects or people that should have been recognized, but those are the snubs garnering the most outrage—and press, thanks to a few notable planned boycotts.
And now for the SAG Awards nominations.
Several of the glaringly obvious missteps in the Oscars lineup aren't present today. Idris Elba received a nomination for his supporting role in Beasts of No Nation, in addition to his nod for the BBC series Luther (the latter of which isn't eligible for an Academy Award, given that it's a TV show). The Netflix movie is also nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, where it will compete against the cast of Straight Outta Compton. It should be noted that that makes two all-black ensembles up for the prestigious award, a particularly notable moment when compared to the fact that no film with an all-black cast has ever been nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.
Like we mentioned earlier, this isn't exactly a diversity level to write home about (still no Michael B. Jordan!), but it couldn't be further from the landscape at its awards show counterpart.
Barry Wetcher/Warner Bros. Entertainment
So what gives? The problems facing Hollywood are exhaustive, but it's worth looking at just who is behind these nominations. (That's right, welcome to the finger-pointing portion of the day). For all the comparisons drawn between the results of the two awards shows, the voting bodies of the SAG and the Academy Awards are pretty different. The Oscars are decided upon by—and this should be a no-brainer—The Academy. Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, that is. It's made up of 6,000-plus film industry professionals and...guess what...it doesn't disclose actual membership.
But in 2013 the Los Angeles Times did a little digging and found that the group was approximately 93% white and 76% male. They're also pretty freaking old, although that doesn't necessarily mean anything. The real problem, though, is that until this week's big changes handed down by president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, members got to serve for life. So those wanting to, er, freshen up the demographics were, for lack of a better phrase, waiting for the current members to die off. (Voting terms will now last 10 years, with a major push to double women and people of color by 2020).
The SAG nominating group works completely differently—the pool comes from the very large SAG-AFTRA, which in layman's terms is all of the working actors in America. ("Working" being the operative word here; you can rest assured knowing that bartender who starred in one Samsung commercial isn't getting a say). The movie and TV categories each select 2,200 people at random, and you're only allowed to serve every eight years, to make sure that there isn't too much overlap (ahem, Oscars).
If this system were to work perfectly, the SAG Awards voting base would be an almost exact representation of the people who are starring in movies. That's wishful thinking, obviously, because no system works perfectly, but it does make it easier to understand why today's group of nominees feels at least slightly more fair than next month's will.
But that brings up an important point: Even though no one has displayed the outright outrage that is plaguing the Oscars, today's even isn't exactly what we would call diverse. So that means that the problem isn't necessarily with who is allowed to be a voter, but who is able to break into the industry in the first place. If the mostly-white SAG Awards is a reflection of Hollywood's working pool, we need to drastically change that pool. All the term changes and voting body initiatives in the world aren't going to get at the root cause.
The Academy may have snubbed Creed, Straight Outta Compton and Beasts of No Nation, but the fact that in an entirely homogeneous show we can all only think of three films that should have been included is frightening and depressing. It might be time to stop asking why people were snubbed from the awards and start figuring out why they're snubbed from the industry.
E!'s Screen Actors Guild Awards coverage starts Saturday at 6 p.m. ET / 3 p.m. PT.
And don't miss the Fashion Police Screen Actors Guild Awards special Monday at 8 p.m. only on E!