What the Golden Globe and SAG Awards Nominations Say About the Need for Further Discussions About Diversity

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Minari Lovecraft Country
Courtesy of Netflix, A24, HBO

Nominations for BIPOC performers were up year to year at both the 2021 Golden Globes and SAG Awards, but nowhere near parity.

Twenty-eight percent of the 2021 SAG television and film nominees announced Thursday are BIPOC, nearly double the amount of BIPOC individuals recognized in 2020 (16%).

On the film side of race, BIPOC performers made up 40% of the overall nominees and four of the five nominated ensembles (80%) — “Da 5 Bloods,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Minari” and “One Night in Miami” — feature primarily BIPOC ensembles casts, in a significant step for an award show that has historically saluted only one or two casts that were predominantly nonwhite among the five nominees. (To note: if a show or film has 49% or less BIPOC performers listed in the ensemble for the year they are nominated, they are considered predominantly white.)

In TV, representation for BIPOC actors in 2021 landed at 20%, up from 13.33% in each of the past three years. However, only one show, HBO’s “Lovecraft Country,” satisfies the inclusivity criteria and none of its cast were singled out for individual nods.

“What I’ve noticed in the industry is a lot of times is people tend to choose a couple people that they’re comfortable with,” Kristen Marston, culture and entertainment advocacy director at Color of Change, tells Variety. “There’s still some fear around accepting the trust and accepting larger groups of Black people, and I think that’s something that we’re going to have to break down.”

Neither set of nominees broke a record for representation at the SAG awards. In the television categories, 2017’s 23rd annual awards claims the record-high thus far, with 36.67% BIPOC individual nominees. 2007 saw the record high for film, with 35% of the nominations going to BIPOC performers.

The same was true for Wednesday’s Golden Globe nominations — which saw its biggest headline concerning representation centered on one category, nominated three women directors (Emerald Fennell, Regina King and Chloe Zhao), two of whom are women of color. Overall, the 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards nominations see a total of 18.6% of all acting nominees going to BIPOC performers across the film and television categories.

For the SAG awards, there has never been a year when BIPOC were not nominated in individual acting categories on the television side of the ballot. But the opposite is true for film nominees — which saw BIPOC actors and ensembles completely shut out of the film race in 1999, 2011 and 2015.

When it comes to film ensembles, there have been moments of triumph like “Black Panther’s” win in 2018 or “Slumdog Millionaire” in 2009 and “Parasite” just last year, which may have helped open the door for “Minari” this year.

Gold House president and co-founder Bing Chen tells Variety that the organization is excited to see greater Asian and Asian American representation.

“We were all thrilled to see so much golden representation in SAG nominations; after all, actors are the single largest branch of The Academy so signal a greater likelihood for Oscar wins–just as we saw with Parasite last year,” Chen says. “Of tantamount importance, we were thrilled to see so much recognition of the Black community’s artistry, particularly after a summer of social reckoning. We’re excited to support our gold artists but also those from other multicultural communities.”

On the TV side of the ballot, comedy has historically been proven to be the ensemble category where more inclusive casts are celebrated, but just barely.

The predominantly white ensemble cast for drama and comedy series has been the historic norm, although “Atlanta” picked up a comedy ensemble nom at the 25th Annual SAG Awards in 2019, while “Black-ish” picked up comedy ensemble noms in 2018 and 2017 and “Orange Is The New Black” picked up comedy ensemble noms between 2015 and 2018. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” also picked up a comedy ensemble nom in 2015. 2007 saw one for “Ugly Betty.”

“This Is Us” picked up drama noms in 2019 and 2018. Interestingly, while “24” picked up drama ensemble noms in 2004, 2005 and 2007, but only that second year featured enough BIPOC performers on the ballot to be considered inclusive.

But industry insiders emphasize that there’s a need to balance the gains for representation with the slowness of progress, bearing in mind both ethnocentric angle that often comes with the awards landscape and the breadth of marginalized communities, including the LGBTQ+, disabled and different faith communities that are not as well-represented within the voting bloc at Hollywood ceremonies, and are thus not often as celebrated.

“In order for us to move forward in an effective way and create change all of these groups, institutions, studios, networks, if you’re not dissecting your patterns and your tendencies and rebuilding from that point, you’re kind of just putting a bandaid on it,” Marston says. “Saying ‘Oh, we did a diversity program,’ because it feels good, right? Or we brought in more diverse voters, it looks good, but we haven’t actually addressed the foundational structural issues that exist within Hollywood.”

Structural issues, such as lack of opportunity or marketing buzz surrounding shows with predominantly nonwhite casts or those depicting cultural experiences, are what lie at the core of why diverse shows are not recognized at awards ceremonies, Ben Lopez, executive director at the National Association of Latino Independent Producers, tells Variety.

“I see the peppering of BIPOC and Latinx [people] … it’s outliers. And I think we’re tired of the outlier if it’s undeniable — the marketing and the push and everything — basically, all the stars have to align perfectly for Latinx and BIPOC to be nominated,” Lopez says. “And I don’t think that’s fair.”

Particularly, Lopez says it’s important to include stories about the Afro-Latinx experience in the push for the industry-wide inclusion of Latinx people, who make up 20% of the U.S. population but almost none of awards shows’ honorees. As a result, Lopez says he sees larger coalitions made up of creatives of color, such as Gold House and the African American Film Critics Association, banding together to push for collective change in partnership with major players and studios.

“We’re gonna hold people’s feet to the fire, and making sure there’s systemic changes that are taking place sooner rather than later,” Lopez says. “We’re not going to go through another déjà vu and we can’t have another Groundhog couple decades.”