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Diversity Reigns at SAG Awards After Oscar Controversy; Stars Say ‘The Problem Starts Before the Academy’

The entertainment industry may be reeling from the lack of diversity in the 2016 Oscar nominations, but the winners at the 2016 Screen Actors Guild Awards stood in stark contrast to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy.

Idris Elba scooped two awards, Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role for Netflix’s “Beasts of No Nation,” and Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries for BBC America’s “Luther.”

“How to Get Away with Murder” star Viola Davis won the award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series, while Queen Latifah took the prize for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries for her titular role in HBO’s “Bessie.” For the second year running, Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” nabbed the ensemble award for a comedy series, with star Uzo Aduba once again taking home the gong for Female Actor in a Comedy Series.

Backstage after her win, Davis addressed the ongoing conversation regarding diversity in the industry. “We’ve become a society of trending topics. Diversity is not a trending topic … I see myself as an actor, no matter what is going on in the business, I will find a way to practice my art,” she said of finding roles. “All the actors of color I know don’t place any limitations on themselves either… regardless of what’s going on in the industry, no matter what’s going on in the Academy, they will find a way to be excellent. We always have and we always will.”

Davis said that people had to make their own decisions about whether to boycott the Oscars, but urged viewers, “when you walk into a theater, to be open to the experience of the story. I feel like sometimes people feel like the stories of people of color aren’t inclusive – they’re very much inclusive … When you watch Annalise, she’s not just a black woman, she’s a woman going through her life. People forget that in our business, we can’t act in a room; you need the actor; you need the director; you need the writer; and you need the audience… So plop down your money to see ‘Race,’ to see ‘Dope,’ to see ‘Straight Outta Compton,’ … to support directors like Ava DuVernay, Lee Daniels, Spike Lee — their stories are just as important and valid as anyone else’s.”

“OITNB” star Laura Prepon noted on stage, “This is what we talk about when we talk about diversity,” referring to the inclusivity of the Netflix show’s cast.

Backstage, castmate Samira Wiley praised “OITNB” creator Jenji Kohan for changing the face of television. “She’s put women on your TV, in your homes, that look like a rainbow. We have different stories, different ages, different body types, different beliefs… It’s a reflection of what the world is like.”

Addressing the lack of representation in the Oscar nominations, “OITNB” cast member Selenis Leyva noted, “The problem starts before the Academy Awards … Producers, directors, casting people need to open their eyes — diversity isn’t just black and white, it’s universal and it’s a lot more than we’re focusing on; it’s religion, it’s sexuality.” She urged content creators at networks and studios to trust that viewers are hungry for stories that reflect diverse experiences. “You will make money, people will tune in.”

Latifah noted that in order for the film industry to catch up to TV in terms of diversity, she thinks “the public has to continue to demand that. We’re in a capitalist society, so hopefully supply and demand will kick back in. Hopefully our business will continue to supply the demand the people are asking for … I hope we wake up and realize the old way of doing things is the old way and it’s okay to evolve … change is inevitable.”

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