Roles for women in Hollywood, both in front of and behind the camera, have become a hot topic in recent years, but one major industry awards show has been steered by women for more than a decade now: the SAG Awards.
Executive producer Kathy Connell, producer Gloria Fujita O’Brien, and SAG Awards committee chair JoBeth Williams are the powerhouse trio who rule over the only Hollywood kudos exclusively devoted to actors celebrating the work of their fellow actors.
“As an actress I’m very often on sets that are predominantly run by men,” Williams says. “We all know the numbers, which unfortunately haven’t changed all that much in the years I’ve been an actor. It’s a joy for me to work with [these women].”
While Williams is a relative newcomer — having joined the committee in 2006 and become chair in 2009 — Connell has been with the show since its inception in 1993.
“I think women always bring a different perspective to things,” Connell says. “Sometimes when you push back people are surprised, because you’re a woman. And there are other times when you can hear what people are going for and maybe translate it into something people can understand better. We’re surrounded by other strong smart women and men. All of us work really as a team.”
O’Brien is approaching two decades working on the show, and notes that the majority of the crew has remained the same over the years. “What I love about this group is they’re very sharing and supportive and accepting of ideas from other people,” she says. “They embrace all of us and support us to be better at what we do.”
The women are united in their pride over how much the SAG honors have grown since the early days. Connell points out that this year’s line-up includes 248 acting nominees recognizing ensembles and individual performances across film and television, in titles as diverse as “Captain Fantastic,” “Moonlight,” “Black-ish,” and “The Crown.”
That feels like progress to the show’s producers. “[Hollywood] is still in many ways an old boys’ club,” Williams acknowledges. “That’s frustrating. But I do see changes. When I look at our awards show and see the diversity that we have, it reflects our members and the diversity of our membership. That’s incredibly exciting. I think our business is changing, it’s moving to become more inclusive … of course it would be great if it was happening a little faster.”
But even at a time when inclusiveness is the industry’s hottest buzzword, Hollywood — like the rest of the country — faces an uncertain future thanks to the sea-change in Washington, D.C. While the specter of President Trump loomed over the recent Golden Globes, the SAG Awards producers say they haven’t discussed how politics may play a role in their show.
“It truly hasn’t come up,” Connell says. “Has it come up having a cup of coffee in the kitchen? Maybe, but not in relation to the show. There is nothing that is planned that will deal with the outside world, but I can’t tell you what will happen when any of our members get up on the stage.
“That’s the nice thing about doing a live show. For me the best couple of minutes are the two minutes just before the show starts when I’m listening to the buzz in the room. That gets me excited because I don’t know what’s coming in the next two hours.”