Diversity took center stage at this past weekend’s Screen Actors Guild Awards with Queen Latifah, Idris Elba, Uzo Aduba and Viola Davis earning statues, but much conversation at the annual award show was about another — the Oscars, which failed to nominate any actors of color, sparking a global conversation about Hollywood’s diversity problem.
From the time the stars stepped onto the red carpet to the moment they won their awards, the buzz was all about how to fix the industry’s issue with diversity.
“Just continue to make the voting bodies look like the public, and then we’ll be fine,” Queen Latifah told Variety backstage at the SAG Awards, referring to the Academy’s recent decision to overhaul membership so that future Oscar voting will better reflect diversity.
Speaking on her personal experiences, just moments after she won Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries for her work in HBO’s “Bessie,” Queen Latifah continued: “I think it just makes me more determined to stay on the path that myself and my partner Shakim [Compere] have been on our whole careers of kicking down doors and producing our own content and creating opportunities whenever we have an opportunity to — making change when we can … It’s okay to get upset — that’s cool. But I take that emotion and turn it into action.”
Like Queen Latifah, many actors at the SAG Awards also spoke about the recent Oscar voting changes, like “Veep’s” Gary Cole who spoke to Variety on the carpet.
“There’s lifetime voting rights in the Academy — that’s probably not a wise idea for people that haven’t been in the industry for decades to be judging work that’s going on now,” Cole said. “It’s certainly worth looking at shaking that up a little.”
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti also weighed in on the problem surrounding his city, saying, “We should see an Oscars that reflects this world, reflects America and reflects our city, and unfortunately, we didn’t see that in the nominations.”
“Straight Outta Compton” star Aldis Hodge sees the positive side of the problem. “To be at the forefront of this conversation is a beautiful thing. I take it as a privilege I’m happy to be included in the positive way that we are,” he said. “It stirs up the conversation of fairness as a whole — equal wages for female performers.”
The cast of “Orange Is the New Black” was also at SAG, where they won two major awards — including Uzo Aduba‘s second SAG in a row — and Lea DeLaria spoke on the subject of gender equality.
“When I first came out as a ‘feminist,’ women made 54 cents to the dollar that men make,” she said. “Now, we make 84. It’s taken 30 years for that to happen, and pretty soon it’ll be 100 — we’ll make 100 percent. I really believe that. And the same goes for any type of diversity that we discuss.”
One of TV’s biggest female faces today, Indian actress Priyanka Chopra, who was a major Bollywood star before she crossed over into mainstream media, shared that she had discussions with ABC about not wanting to topline her breakout hit “Quantico” solely to hit a diversity quota, so to speak — she wanted to earn the role because of talent.
“My thought is, cast someone for the job, for the merit, because they are good for the job — not what they look like,” Chopra said. “That’s what I told ABC when they came to me for this. I was like, ‘I don’t want to be cast because I’m brown. I want to be cast because I’m good at what I do.”
Another breakout star, “Mr. Robot’s” Rami Malek brought up an interesting point: the Egyptian actor is versatile in his roles, but not on paper. “I’ve played Latin characters, Middle Eastern characters, believe it or not, I played an Asian guy once,” Malek said. “I’m still technically considered white so, I don’t know — I guess some things have to change.”
Watch the video above to see what all the actors at the SAG Awards had to say about Hollywood’s diversity discussion.