SAG Awards

Black Actors Won Big at the SAG Awards, But It’s Not Enough

[Commentary] Black actors won 3 out of 4 of the top honors at the SAG Awards, but making sure Hollywood is diverse will take longer than one awards season

by Britni Danielle, January 30, 2017

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SAG Awards

Viola Davis, left, and Denzel Washington speak at the 23rd annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium & Expo Hall on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

It’s been two years since writer April Reign declared #OscarsSoWhite after actors of color were shut out of Academy Award nominations, and Hollywood is currently patting itself on the back for changing its ways.

Sunday night, Black actors swept three of the four film acting categories at the 2017 Screen Actors Guild Awards. Denzel Washington picked up his first SAG Award, taking home a statue for most outstanding performance by a male actor in leading role in Fences, while Viola Davis won her fifth, this time for her supporting role in the film. Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali also picked up an award for outstanding performance in a supporting role, and Hidden Figures took home the top prize for outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture.

Taraji P. Henson used Hidden Figures’ surprising win to call for unity.

“This film is about unity. The shoulders of the women that we stand on are three American heroes: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. Without them, we would not know how to reach the stars,” she said. “This story is about what happens when we put our differences aside, and we come together as a human race.”

Conversely, Davis used her acceptance speech to advocate for more stories about everyday Black folks.

“What August did so beautifully is he honored the average man, who happened to be a man of color. And sometimes we don’t have to shake the world and move the world and create anything that is going to be in the history book,” Davis said.

“The fact that we breathed and lived a life and was a god to our children, just that, means that we have a story and it deserves to be told,” she continued. “We deserve to be in the canon of any — in the center of any narrative that’s written out there. And that’s what August did.”

It’s hard to deny the criticisms lobbed at Hollywood over the past two years is working. #OscarsSoWhite sparked discussions and calls for solutions about how the industry could become more diverse and inclusive, and 2016 was a banner year for Black cinema. Films like Moonlight, Hidden Figures, and Fences were critical and commercial successes, while Black actors and filmmakers like Moonlight director Barry Jenkins and cinematographer Bradford Young are finally being recognized for their work.

But it’s not enough.

Hollywood gatekeepers are still overwhelmingly White and male, and getting in the room remains a challenge for artists of color.

While the Oscars might not be so White this year with seven actors of color—six Black, one Indian—vying for the top awards, we can’t allow Hollywood to give itself props for what could be a temporary flirtation with inclusion. Instead, we must continue to hold studios accountable and demand they support inclusive filmmaking. One option could be to adopt Ava DuVernay’s model of hiring diverse crews both in front of and behind the camera, or studios could take a cue from the Sundance Institute’s commitment to mentoring and supporting filmmakers from underrepresented communities.

Though this is indeed a golden moment for Black actors and filmmakers, with several poised to rack up awards over the next month, we can’t let Hollywood simply congratulate itself for being diverse before returning to its old ways.


Britni Danielle is the Entertainment/Culture Director of EBONY. Follow her on Twitter @BritniDWrites.

 
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