The SAG Awards Just Set an Example for Oscars Diversity

Winners Idris Elba and Laura Prepon championed the power of television.
Idris Elba, who won outstanding performance by a male actor in a television movie or miniseries and outstanding performance by a male actor in a supporting role, at the 22nd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. (Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic via Getty Images)
Jan 31, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Idris Elba may have been snubbed by the Academy Awards this year, but the Beasts of No Nation actor scored big at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Saturday night, taking home a pair of trophies for two separate performances during a ceremony that was hailed for its diversity of nominees.

“Welcome to diverse TV,” Elba said onstage, making a pun out of the word “diversity,” which has been the topic of industry buzz since the Academy Awards nominated white performers in all of its acting categories earlier this month, prompting calls for boycotts from the likes of Jada Pinkett Smith.

Elba’s play on words may have been a jab at the Oscars, but they also evoked the power of television, a medium that some say has far surpassed film in its fair and inclusive representations of women, LGBT people, and people of color. How to Get Away With Murder actor Viola Davis, Orange Is the New Black star Uzo Aduba, and Queen Latifah, who played the title role in the HBO biopic Bessie, were among the SAG Award recipients for their work in television.
In the motion picture categories, Brie Larson, Alicia Vikander, and Leonardo DiCaprio also took home top acting honors for their work in Room, The Danish Girl, and The Revenant, respectively. Spotlight (coproduced by TakePart’s parent company, Participant Media) won for best ensemble cast, with actors Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton dedicating the award to the survivors of child abuse from the Catholic Church.
Elba, who became the first actor since Helen Mirren in 2007 to pick up two SAG awards in one night—the second was for his role in the TV show Luther—was not the only star to remark upon the diversity of the small screen. While accepting the award for outstanding performance by an ensemble in comedy, Orange Is the New Black actor Laura Prepon looked around at her dozen or so costars onstage—all of whom play fellow inmates at the fictional Litchfield women’s prison—and marveled at their differences.

“Look at this stage,” Prepon said. “This is what we talk about when we talk about diversity. Different race, color, creed, sexual orientation.”

Unlike the Academy Awards, the SAG Awards includes television nominees and focuses solely on acting. But it also differs in another notable way: Its nominees are chosen by actors. Two panels consisting of 2,200 members of the SAG-AFTRA guild decide the nominees for the television and motion picture categories, according to the organization’s website. More than 116,000 of the group’s members are then eligible to vote in all categories.

The Oscars’ nomination process is far more opaque, and its secretive membership has come under scrutiny in recent years, prompting the Academy to issue reforms. An L.A. Times investigation revealed that the Academy’s more than 5,700 voting members were 94 percent white and 77 percent male in 2012. Responding to criticism over its lack of diversity, the Academy’s Board of Governors voted last week to revise its membership policies in an effort to double the number of women and ethnic minorities.

Despite calls for Oscars host Chris Rock to step down in protest, Academy Awards producer Reginald Hudlin confirmed to Variety last week that the comedian is keeping his gig for the Feb. 28 ceremony. Diversity issues will remain in the spotlight, however, with Rock set to incorporate the controversy into his opening monologue.

TakePart’s parent company, Participant Media, is a partner on Beasts of No Nation, as well as on Oscar-nominated films Spotlight, Bridge of Spies, and The Look of Silence.