2015 SAG Awards: While Movies Struggle with Diversity, TV Makes Great Strides

Viola Davis SAG
Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP
Viola Davis SAG

Viewers watching the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday night might have been struck at the contrast between film and TV when it came to diversity. TV’s big wins included How to Get Away with Murder‘s Viola Davis, who won for best actress in a TV drama, and Orange is the New Black‘s Uzo Aduba, named best actress in a TV comedy.

“There are so many women on this show, the rainbow so great, it’s thrilling there are outlets pushing these boundaries,” Aduba told reporters backstage about Orange’s big win.

Orange, which has scored raves for its portrayal of women of every ethnic background and sexual identity, also won the SAG Award for top comedy ensemble cast. “You’re seeing real human beings on this show, and that’s why it’s ringing true,” castmember Yvette Freeman said. “We’re gorgeous, aren’t we?”

TV’s big strides in diversity – Latina actress Gina Rodriguez just won a Golden Globe for her starring role in The CW’s Jane the Virgin – comes as the film biz faces criticism for the lack of any major Academy Award nominees of color. Most notably, the film Selma didn’t receive any major acting or directing nominations. (The movie did receive a nod for best picture.) The Oscar snubs led to an outcry on social media, including the hashtag “#OscarsSoWhite.”

Contrast that to television, where new shows with casts of color, like the new Fox drama Empire, are big hits. And now series like Orange is the New Black and How to Get a Away with Murder are garnering awards.

All 40 members of the Orange is the New Black ensemble took home a SAG trophy. The cast is so large that the group carried along a sign listing everyone’s names so the press could keep track of all of them. Nonetheless, they had to meet the media backstage in two different groups, so that all of them could fit behind the microphone.

“The whole experience has been incredibly humbling,” said Aduba, who last year won an Emmy for guest actress in a comedy series. “I’m still in that space. When my name was called, I thought my heart stopped for a second. And then I was like, ‘Come on heart, beat again, this is the moment I need you!”

Fellow cast member Lea DeLaria also choked up as she discussed what the success of Orange is the New Black means for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. “I can assure you they are having watching parties in every queer bar in the world,” she said. “Right now West Hollywood is dancing in the streets. The LGBTQ community could not be more supportive about Orange is the New Black. They’re happy about the face of humanness it has put on all of us. I never thought the world would change in my lifetime the way that it has.”

Davis said Annalise Keating, her role on How to Get Away with Murder, was unlike most female characters she had seen on TV. “The sexualized, messy, outwardly-strong, inwardly-vulnerable women I know in my life [are] the women usually marginalized on TV,” she said. “They do exist in life. We want to see ourselves; we want to be inspired by that. We don’t want to see fictionalized images of women and feel bad about ourselves. I sometimes want the fantasy, but more often than not, I want to see the reality.”

Another big winner at this year’s SAG Awards: Netflix, which dominated the evening’s television categories. In addition Orange‘s two awards, the streaming service picked up the best actor in a drama trophy with a win for House of Cards’ Kevin Spacey.

Although the Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes get most of the attention, actors embrace the SAG Awards because it’s other actors are honoring them. William H. Macy celebrated his first major award win since 2003 (when he picked up the Emmy and SAG Award for TNT miniseries Door to Door), landing the best actor in a comedy statue for Shameless.

“There’s a moment every actor will understand, where you get home [from an awards show], take off your tuxedo and in your pocket is a speech, which is the best speech that never got delivered that evening,” he said. “I didn’t expect [tonight’s win] so I didn’t write a speech. So the first thing I said was, “Oh shit!’ And my wife said, ‘Don’t say that, you’re on camera!'” Why does the SAG Award matter? Said Macy: “This comes from my peers.”