(L-R) Actor and SAG committee member Jason George, SAG Committee Chair JoBeth Williams, recording artist/actor Common, actress Sophia Bush, SAG-AFTRA Executive Vice President Gabrielle Carteris and SAG Executive Producer Kathy Connell at 23rd Annual SAG Awards Nominations held at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, CA. (Photo by Valerie Goodloe)

Recently, media outlets came out in numbers at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood to sit in on nomination announcements for the 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards (SAG Awards) to be simulcast live on TBS and TNT January 29, 2017.

With the height of award season in full effect, eyes are glued to television, phone and computer screens in hopes that more African Americans not only get a seat at the table of glorified thespians, but a victory in the acting boardroom too.

SAG has traditionally been known to “get it right” in terms of diversity inclusion, particularly in their 2015 nominations and award ceremony, compared to its Academy Award counterparts and their #OscarsSoWhite controversy.

Executive Producer of the SAG Awards Kathy Connell says diversity is nothing new for the organization as they’ve “always had a diverse list of nominees” throughout it’s years of existence. “Our members have an opportunity to look at what’s out there and nobody knows better than another actor what it takes to do a fine performance, and they acknowledged quite a number this morning,” Connell said.

While acknowledgement rests few and far between positive Black roles being accepted in mainstream media, it appears that many Black actors are taking a stand to star in roles that reflect power and purpose. Take Hidden Figures, starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, for example. The women collectively bring to a light a major piece of NASA’s untold history, three Black women of who were integral in sending American astronaut John Glenn into space. 

Top SAG nominations for African Americans this year included, Denzel Washington, who is up for “Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role for Fences, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer who are both up for “Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role” for their roles in Fences and Hidden Figures, respectively. African American casts received 3 out of 5 nominations for “Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture,” for Fences, Hidden Figures and Moonlight.

The category for ‘Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television or Limited Series” included nominations for Sterling K. Brown and Courtney B. Vance in The People v. O.J. Simpson: The American Crime Story, while Kerry Washington snagged the nomination for her role as Anita Hill in Confirmation in the same category for a female actor.

Meanwhile, the category for “Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series” includes Uzo Aduba for her reprised role as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren in Orange is the New Black on Netflix. Up for the male nomination in the same category is Anthony Anderson for his role as Andre Johnson on ABC’s Black-ish. Other nominations for

The Sentinel also spoke with Jason George, African American actor and SAG Awards committee member who provided his thoughts on diversity inclusion in the selection process. “We hope for it, and we try and make sure it’s there, but at the end of the day if they’re not making the movies with diversity, and race and ethnicity, then they don’t get nominated, and as you can see this year, they’re there,” George stated. “It just tells me that the industry is waking up that there’s money to be made by telling really diverse stories,” he continued.

The voting process itself is quite quantitative with a series of moving parts. Two nominating panels, one for television and one for film, each have 2,500 SAG-AFTRA members (selected at random) in the United States choose the year’s nominees. The nominations are then sent to the 121,546 SAG-AFTRA members in good standing across the country, which have the ability to vote on all categories. Once results are tallied, they are sealed and prepared for reveal at the awards ceremony.

SAG Awards Committee Chair JoBeth Williams says the committee not only helps to “define the rules of the requirements for nominations,” but is also involved in every aspect of awards’ production and ballot process. “We obviously want the best performances, and of course we want to support diversity. And because we have such a diverse membership, we want our awards to reflect that,” Williams said. 

The 23rd Annual SAG Awards will be simulcast live from coast to coast on TBS and TNT January 29, 2017.

Category: Arts & Culture