FROM THE PRESS ROOM
Now that the dust has settled, the festivities dwindled and the hangovers simmered to a tolerable head ache, let us now assess the 22nd Annual SAG Awards. As the first guild to proclaim its champions in the lead up to Oscar, as well as the far off future Emmy contenders, SAG was well positioned to give insight into the race and initiate the industry response to #OscarsSoWhite – and they delivered.
First off, a sincere congratulatory high five to both film and television nominees and winners. Spotlight joins The Big Short in the Best Picture race. Leonardo, Brie and Alicia, your chances at Oscar glory are looking good. Idris – you had a great night, no hard feelings.
I had sincerely hoped my attempt at laying out a counter opinion to the ongoing diversity debate would be my last word on the matter. We would be free to discuss pressing issues and interesting new stories. Alas, the layoffs at 20th Century Fox and a rollicking dive into The People v. O.J. Simpson (following a terrific Huffington Post interview with Cuba Gooding Jr. earlier this morning [1 February]) will have to wait until tomorrow. Not because anything thoroughly unheard of was mentioned during or after the ceremony. No, what was more pressing, was the much needed shift of focus from “a black issue” to “a people issue.”
My initial opinion on this particular moment for diversity in Hollywood was not a show of support. Instead, I was frustrated by the narrow focus of the argument, the uneven motives of those leading the movement and the overall lack of common sense when attempting to further the cause. It seemed most everybody was content to vilify white actors and industry veterans, victimize black actors and directors and ignore the actual root of the rallying cry.
As a “black issue” or an “award issue,” this debate has no legs to stand on. It tumbles right into the heap of one-sided arguments along with the essay addressing equal pay for women written by Jennifer Lawrence late last year or consistent criticisms from the LGBTQ community on characters being portrayed as martyrs or casualties. Let me be clear: these arguments are valid. However, they continue to be presented without context or a wider perspective, leaving many (like myself) to sideline the points as more of complaints than movements.
I have advocated these separate actions unite to present one cause: a greater representation of the world as it is today – diversity and all. Rather than isolating each group and creating a lot of shouting into the void, let us insist on one common goal. I can see where my original discussion of this topic could lead some to believe I had no interest in the diversity issue, period. Contrary, I am very interested in diversity – real diversity. Not minorities being presented as ungrateful, or naysayers, or rousers, but as people.
The SAG Awards ceremony and celebration brought about a new level of criticism for Hollywood, one not easily avoided this time, because the message has been made universal. Funny enough, the message was not delivered by film stars, but by their television counterparts. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to diverse TV,” Idris Elba commented in his introduction to Beasts of No Nation. Elba took home awards for both Beasts of No Nation and his television performance in Luther.
Selenis Leyva from the award-winning Orange Is the New Black added backstage, “The problem starts before the Academy Awards. It’s in the studios and the casting people. They need to open their eyes. This is a different world we’re living in. Diversity is universal, and it’s more than we’re focussing on. It’s religion, it’s sexuality. It doesn’t start at the Academy Awards, it starts before that!”
Jeffrey Tambor, who won for his performance in Transparent, insisted, “The stories are being told and the entertainment is being reformed and the way characterization is being done. The whole thing is changing.”
Recipient of the Lifetime Achievement honor, Carol Burnett, included in her acceptance speech, “It’s a beautiful way that things have changed. Women in comedy are much more respected now. …In TV, women are now allowed to go into the movies. We used to be pigeon-holed.”
Lea Delaria, also from Orange Is the New Black, concluded her two cents with, “It’s exciting that we’re having this conversation – it’s a win for the good guys. We wouldn’t be having this conversation five years ago.”
That sentiment is what has been missing from the start – this is a conversation. The revolution is ongoing. Change and development and growth have been slowly shifting the way things were, to the way they are now. We are in the midst of an incomplete project. What has left me so avidly against #OscarsSoWhite debate is the lack of recognition that what is happening is a discussion point in a movement. A movement that captures all races, genders, orientations, religions, political stances – not just one side, but each side together.
When Viola Davis, star of and winner for How to Get Away with Murder, uttered, “Diversity is not a trending topic, it’s just not,” I admit to being a little suspect. Did this whole issue not start from a hashtag, and celebrity endorsements, and relentless press coverage? Sounds like a trending topic to me. And yet, the point might be better phrased, that diversity “should not” be a trending topic.
Diversity should not be a scape goat for why an award went to someone else instead of you. Diversity should not be a publicized boycott to instigate voting reform at AMPAS. Diversity should not be a PR title, by calling a much-deserved award a “diversity win.” A win is a win. A “diversity win” is a stance, a photo-op for clueless executives trying to cover themselves.
The Los Angeles Times called the SAG ceremony “A Showcase for How it Could Be.” Actors, in this case, being recognized for their work, and not their stance. It could be like this. But it’s not. And it won’t be – not until we as an entertainment community can put aside the financial quotas and commercial stigmas and need to pontificate, and simply accept that change is happening, and maybe sometimes, we won’t always see our deserved victories when would like to. Carol Burnett put it best in her closing parable of a part she believed she deserved, but eventually went to somebody else. “And something inside – and I have to thank the way that I felt – said, ‘It’s her turn. My turn will come.’”