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SAG Awards Sings the Song of Tokenism Once Again
By Brittany K. Jackson, Contributing Writer
Published January 23, 2020

(From Left-to-Right): Danai Gurira, Marhershala Ali and wife, Amatus Sami-Karim and O-T Fagbenle at 2020 SAG Awards. PHOTOS BY ROBERT TORRENCE                    

Time-after-time again, Black America has addressed what now appears to be blatant tokenism and lack of representation in Hollywood’s entertainment industry. Either we’re in the room and don’t see many like us, or we get to the table, and we’re hardly noticed, much less awarded for our contributions. When we speak up, we’re merely complaining.

So just where is the win in the wallows of an oversaturated, under-melanated media-market? Is it in the numbers, the votes, the committees, the content? What more do we have to do to see the complete reflection of our artistry on all platforms? After attending my third SAG Awards, I asked a few of Black Hollywood’s finest their thoughts on representation or the lack thereof in Hollywood, and what we can do to widen the landscape of unmitigated recognition.

SAG Foundation President Courtney B. Vance says we hold the power to make or break movies, charging the public as well as producers and directors behind the scenes to collectively be involved in ensuring people of color are actively represented. PHOTO BY ROBERT TORRENCE

As the newest president of the SAG Foundation, seasoned actor, Courtney B. Vance was largely disappointed in the continued lack of diversity being projected on this award season’s stage of non-acceptance. Highlighting the fact that less than 2% of actors nominated for Oscars’ acting categories are people of color, while no female directors were even nominated, Vance says true representation lies in our ability to choose.

“I think that’s all of our responsibility as members to vote, because the projects are out there. As producers and directors and casting directors, our job is to make sure that behind the camera and in front of the camera, that it’s representative of our world, because the world is not homogeneously White, it’s not,” Vance said.

“The power we have is to make the movies, snubbed or not. We make the movies make money, we have that power,” he added. “We can make it or break it. They can’t stop us from going to the movies.”

“Barry’s” Darrell Britt-Gibson says “we have to start writing layered, nuanced, complicated chat chess that extend beyond the realm of being a gangster and being a slave.” PHOTO BY ROBERT TORRENCE

For Barry’s Darrell Britt-Gibson, our fight is in the power and re-imagination of Black storytelling. “We have to start writing for each other, but we also have to start writing layered, nuanced, complicated characters that extend beyond the realm of being a gangster and being a slave,” Gibson said. “We need to show we can be in love. We need to fight for each other, because there’s no group of people more talented on planet Earth than Black people,” he proclaimed.

Gibson also says the sentiment of inclusion should not only rest on television, but in the pressrooms as well. “I spoke about this last year hoping to see some change, but I don’t,” Gibson said. “This idea when I look at the press room, there are like eight Black people, and there was like seven last year, so they give us one more and we’re supposed to celebrate that? Nah, I’m not with that. There’s a big problem,” he added.

“It’s crazy to think that we’re in 2020 now, and I’m still looking at the same thing. In life, it’s hard enough. The only thing harder than being a Black man, is being a Black woman, and we’re fighting every day, and we’re royalty. You’re telling royalty Kings and Queens to have to fight for something?”

“A Fall from Grace’s” leading lady Crystal R. Fox says that “if people don’t choose to see us, then they don’t even know what to award us for” and that creating our own awards becomes a more viable option. PHOTO BY ROBERT TORRENCE

Crystal R. Fox, known for her work in Tyler Perry’s “The Have & the Have Nots” believes that if perhaps we create our own awards, we’ll reel in the recognition we deserve for bringing our light and creativity to the table. Given her first opportunity by Perry to serve as the leading lady in Perry’s latest film “A Fall from Grace,” Fox says it’s this same fortitude and grit that will allow us to continue pushing the needle forward. “The same way Tyler built that studio, we may need to come up with our own awards, because if people don’t choose to see us, then they don’t even know what to award us for,” Fox said.

Furthermore, Fox says that the all too grand majority should be certain not to award us out of pity or pressure. “Please don’t patronize the Black community or anybody else of color,” she said. “Don’t give us an award for mediocrity, give us an award for the best, but we need an opportunity to do more, build more, create more, that has all of those shades that can be spectacular, and then you’ll have something to award,” Fox declared.

(From Left-to-Right): Logan Browning, Sterling K. Brown and Lupita Nyong’o at 2020 SAG Awards. PHOTOS BY ROBERT TORRENCE

All-in-all, it’s no longer appropriate to dangle the highlight of success over our heads when convenient or in response to roles that reek of oppression and submission. And don’t get me wrong, the goal is not to persecute the artistry of our Anglo-Saxon friends. It is, however, to balance the scales and open the door for diversity, melanated diversity.

In off-kilter spectrums where representation matters, where do we go from here? As a Black woman in media, it’s hard for me to say, other than to keep writing, keep creating and keep representing in a form that brings value back to Black Hollywood. But one thing is for sure, and two for certain, the work isn’t solely our own to understand and carry, it’s that of our ethnic counterparts to be involved and held accountable, too. In the interim, let’s not shy away from being great and doing the work, whether they like it or not.

“Harriet” star Cynthia Erivo gives the crowd sheer elegance
at 2020 SAG Awards. PHOTO BY ROBERT TORRENCE

Categories: Entertainment | News (Entertainment) | TV
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