At the 2017 SAG Awards, stories about and by black Americans mattered
Sunday night was triumphant for black actors. The 23rd Screen Actors Guild Awards brought trophies to Fences' primary pair of actors, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, as well as Moonlight's Mahershala Ali and the ensemble cast of Hidden Figures. The wins continue this award show's trend of rejecting the exclusivity of awards season — and Hollywood in general.
Yet beyond the wins themselves, which give momentary feelings of thrill, there was a bigger movement happening throughout the night — one Davis zeroed in on in her acceptance speech as she paid tribute to Fences playwright August Wilson.
"What August did so beautifully is he honored the average man who happened to be a man of color," Davis said. "Sometimes, we don't have to shake the world and move the world and create anything that is going to be in the history book. The fact that we breathed and live a life and was a god to our children, just that means we have a story and it deserves to be told. We deserve to be in the canon, in the center of any narrative that's written out there."
Davis is emphasizing what the SAG voters endorsed: that the ordinary of black lives is as worthy of attention as the extraordinary. Stories like 12 Years a Slave are vital. Telling the untold tales like in Hidden Figures is necessary. But an ordinary man, like Fences' Troy Maxson, is deserving of attention, too.
It's a point #OscarsSoWhite creator and writer April Reign has made multiple times, including in a Facebook Live interview with Mic's Mathew Rodriguez on Friday. Slate's Aisha Harris did the same on Oscar nomination morning. "The films nominated for best picture reflect a wide breadth of experiences and stories from and about black people," Harris wrote. "Unlike in, say, The Help, their stories are never sidelined to focus on the white characters in their lives."
This is true inclusion — not diversity, a word which too often means insertion of people of color into colorless stories (i.e. colorblind casting). Inclusion means giving people of marginalized and underrepresented groups a megaphone to tell their own stories, both in front of and behind the camera. It means investing in creators like Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney so they can make Moonlight, or giving a black director like Denzel Washington the chance to direct an adaptation of Fences.
The film industry needs to take their cues from Sunday night's SAG awards and put effort not just in placing talent of color in existing projects, but also building up new projects with creators of color — who, in turn, will hire talent of color. The Fences, Moonlight and Hidden Figures-esque movies of the world are the future of Hollywood.
If the film industry can take note, it will make for a better, more inclusive slate of movies. This is how one truly exterminates #OscarsSoWhite: through changing the way the industry sees and tells inclusive stories.