So, the big question: were the awards given for merit—or as a consolation prize for the #OscarsSoWhite controversy? It was probably a combination of both.
Last night’s Screen Actor’s Guild Awards could have been hashtagged #SAGSoBlack for the number of people of color who took home a statuette. From Idris Elba, who made history by winning two awards, to Queen Latifah, Viola Davis and Uzo Aduba, there was more melanin on stage than at the last five years of The Oscars combined. (No, really. I looked it up for you. Since 2007, there have been just five Black folks winning major acting awards at The Oscars: Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Hudson, Mo'Nique, Octavia Spencer and Lupita Nyong’o.)
Even the SAG Awards weren’t quite this diverse last year. In 2015, just two major acting prizes were given out to African-American actors: Uzo Aduba and Viola Davis, who both one again this year.
It’s not hard to imagine that SAG voters were influenced by the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. Particularly after Variety’s cover story with the provoking headline: Shame On Us. Although the SAG nominations were announced back in December, before the Oscar nominations, voting for the SAG Awards were tabulated all the way up to last Friday. So voters who waited until the last minute may well have had the diversity hot button issue influencing their vote.
Does it matter if people voted for Black folks solely because of the diversity issue that’s currently part of the news cycle? No, it doesn’t. The SAG Awards are selected by a random sampling of active SAG members and many voters only get one or two DVDs or digital links to screen the nominated performances. I doubt very seriously that the typical SAG voter actually saw all of the nominated shows, films and performances. Did you watch Bessie, Beasts of No Nation, How To Get Away With Murder, Orange Is The New Black and Luther last year? Yeah, most SAG voters didn’t see them all either. So like any multiple-choice tests, I’m sure some voters folks usually throw out some guesses on what they assume were winning performances. This year? Why not throw the guess to a person of color?
If diversity in the entertainment field begins with shaming voters into widening their options when it’s time to vote, so be it. While some believe that Black actors and actresses shouldn’t look for validation from mainstream outlets like The Academy Awards, The SAG Awards and The Golden Globes, that notion is just unrealistic. Even while BET makes sure to capture every facet of Black excellence through several awards shows each year, it doesn’t negate wanting to be recognized by the mainstream.
If this year’s SAG Awards are any indication, it looks like last night may have been a watershed moment when it comes to honoring people of color. Do we need awards thrown to Black people indiscriminately simply to even the score? Absolutely not. #AwardsSoFair is all we need.
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