Awards season kicked off with the Spirit Awards in November, and will end with this year’s controversial Academy Awards in February. In light of the growing criticism about the lack of diversity in nominees and a boycott announcement by Jada Pinkett, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs issued this statement:
“As many of you know, we have implemented changes to diversify our membership in the last four years. But the change is not coming as fast as we would like. We need to do more, and better and more quickly . . . This isn’t unprecedented for the Academy. In the ’60s and ’70s it was about recruiting younger members to stay vital and relevant. In 2016, the mandate is inclusion in all of its facets: gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. We recognize the very real concerns of our community, and I so appreciate all of you who have reached out to me in our effort to move forward together.”
Concussion star Will Smith, who joined his wife Jada in saying he would not attend this year’s awards ceremony, responded to the Academy’s announcement last week in a BBC interview, which was promptly followed up by an Entertainment article. “This is far beyond me. This has nothing to do with me. This has nothing to do with awards,” Smith said. “Awards are a really frivolous reason for me to put my hand up and make a statement. For me, this is much more about the idea of diversity and inclusion.”
For the second straight year, all 20 men and women nominated in the Academy’s acting categories are white. Although it’s impossible to map the Golden Globe or Academy Awards perfectly to the SAG Awards because of the difference in award categories, this year’s SAG Awards provided a broader opportunity for actors of all ethnicities to both participate and be recognized for outstanding performances. Focused on performance only, the SAG Awards also highlighted films snubbed in this year’s Academy Award nominations.
Predictably, Leonardo diCaprio took home another leading actor trophy for The Revenant at the SAG Awards. However, Idris Elba won both for his supporting role in the Netflix film Beasts of No Nation, and also garnered top honors for his work in the television show Luther. Leading lady Brie Larson stayed on top, adding “the Actor” award to her Golden Globes win for the feature film Room. Other wins included Viola Davis for ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder, Uzo Aduba for Orange is the New Black, and Queen Latifah for her portrayal of blues singer Bessie Smith in HBO’s Bessie. It’s important to note that the SAG Awards are decided by a vote of peers, rather than a select group within an institution. Along with more award opportunities in film and television categories, peer-voting may influence the more diverse nomination and award results.
The same night the SAG Awards were being held in Los Angeles, the Sundance Film Festival was busy awarding Nate Parker’s slave-revolt film The Birth of a Nation both the grand jury prize for narrative film and audience prizes in Park City, Utah. Parker’s award sweep gave a nod to diversity. The New York Times quoted his onstage remarks: “An issue film succeeds when it touches people. I’ve seen that people are open to change.” And in that moment, the race for the 2017 Academy Awards began.
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