erik lundegaard

SAG/Oscar Differences: What Do They Say About Race, Sex?

Earlier this month, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (the Oscars to you and me) was blasted when it released its 2014 nominations and “Selma” barely made the cut—just picture and song. Director Ava DuVernay didn't become the first black female director ever nominated, and David Oyelowo was passed over for his performance as Martin Luther King, Jr. All 20 acting nominees were white for the first time since 1998, and #OscarsSoWhite became a popular Twitter hashtag.

I shrugged. Surely there were greater Academy insults over the years: the excusion of “Do the Right Thing,” for example, or the inclusion of “Crash.” I'd also heard the “Selma” people didn't get screeners to the Academy members in time, so it all seemed less a matter of racism than a marketing SNAFU. But the outrage machine needs its outrage.

Once upon a time, sure, the Academy, along with Hollywood, wasn't exactly to black actors. Still not, but there's been improvement. These are the number of black actors who have been nominated in the four acting categories:

  • 1927-2000: 37 nominations/ 6 Oscars
  • 2001-2013: 29 nominations/ 9 Oscars

For the first 73 years of the Academy, black actors averaged a nomination every two years and an Oscar every 12 years. But since 2001, black actors average 2.4 nominations a year and an Oscar almost every year. For all the racism that still exists in Hollywood, the Academy, at least, seems to be making a step in the right direction. 

Then I compared Oscar with SAG.

First, the Academy and the Screen Actors Guild are amazingly in sync. In the last five years, they've agreed on 18 of 20 choices. If you go back 10 years, there's a little more disagreement—but not in lead actor, where Oscar and SAG match exactly.

Here's a list of the SAG winners from the last 10 years, with the eight differences with the Academy highlighted:

Year  Lead Actor Lead Actress Supporting Actor Supporting Actress
2013 Matthew McConaughey Cate Blanchett Jared Leto Lupita Nyong'o
2012 Daniel Day-Lewis Jennifer Lawrence Tommy Lee Jones Anne Hathaway
2011 Jean Dujardin Viola Davis Christopher Plummer Octavia Spencer
2010 Colin Firth Natalie Portman Christian Bale Melissa Leo
2009 Jeff Bridges Sandra Bullock Christoph Waltz No'Nique
2008 Sean Penn Meryl Streep* Heath Ledger Kate Winslet*
2007 Daniel Day-Lewis Julie Christie Javier Bardem Ruby Dee
2006 Forrest Whitaker Helen Mirren Eddie Murphy Jennifer Hudson
2005 Phillip Seymour Hoffman Reese Witherspoon Paul Giamatti Rachel Weisz
2004 Jamie Foxx Hilary Swank Morgan Freeman Cate Blanchett

*In 2008, SAG awarded Winslet best supporting for “The Reader” while she won the Oscar for best lead.

You see a pattern? In three of the eight differences, SAG chose a black actor and the Academy didn't. Davis, Dee and Murphy were thrown over for Streep (“The Iron Lady”), Tilda Swinton (“Michael Clayton”), and Alan Arkin (“Little Miss Sunshine”). 

You see another pattern? This is an old one, to be sure. With actresses, the Academy has a tendency to go young and hot. For the men, it's a wash: Jim Broadbent instead of Ian McKellen, James Coburn instead of Robert Duvall. But here's a list of women who won Oscars but not SAG statuettes: Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Connelly, Juliette Binoche. It's like a Who's Who of my fantasies. 

But do these patterns mean anything? I'd probably go Arkin over Murphy, too, or Swinton over Dee. With the women, are Oscar voters horny or are SAG voters xenophobic, since three of the four mentioned above are foreign actresses?

The Academy does skew old and white. You have to be asked to join the Academy. You simply have to be working to join SAG. But does this difference lead to racism and sexism? Does it ever lead to, I don't know, wisdom?

We'll see if the patterns continue into the future. In race matters, at least, they won't this year. The Academy got all the flack but in 2014 SAG didn't bother to nominate an actor of color, either. #SAGSoWhite? Or #ScreenersSoLate?

Cruz, Cotillard, Binoche, Connelly: Oscar not SAG winners

No SAG on these Oscar winners. 

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Posted at 04:44 PM on Thu. Jan 29, 2015 in category Movies - The Oscars  

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