SAG Awards on merit, not race

On Sunday, January 25, the 21st Annual Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards aired on TNT and TBS with two minority actresses — Viola Davis (How to Get Away With Murder) and Uzo Aduba (Orange is the New Black) — taking home two of the most coveted awards for actresses.

Considering I know from the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences (AMPAS) snub of the critically acclaimed “Selma” (2014), it is almost a wonder that men and women of minority status have been held to the same Hollywood regard as their Caucasian colleagues.

Davis and Aduba’s respective wins for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series and Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series, illustrate a point that is seldom made clear to the film and television industry as a whole — honors should be awarded to work of true substance regardless of age, race or ethnicity.

The members of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists union (some 156,000 working actors and actresses) determine the SAG Awards, while a 6,000 plus membership pool of the AMPAS that includes a selective group of studio executives, directors, producers, actors, writers and other film industry professionals determines the Academy Awards.

Besides an obvious discrepancy in membership size, the Academy Awards has historically showed a preference to nominating and awarding Caucasian actors and actresses — which does not seem surprising given that 94 percent of the voting pool is Caucasian according to the Los Angeles Times.

Only ten African American women have ever been nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role, with Halle Berry being the sole winner for her role in “Monster’s Ball” (2001); however, African American men have had a far greater winning streak with four men winning out the 20 nominated. And the trend continues — the smaller the minority, the increasingly fewer number of nominations bestowed in the 87-year history of the Academy Awards.

The 2015 Academy Awards features an all-Caucasian group of nominees for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Actress in a Leading Role.

Before the AMPAS can call their decisions a reflection of diversity, they should take a page out of the SAG Awards book because as Davis said in her SAG acceptance speech, “it starts from the top up.”