SAG Awards: Viola Davis says 'diversity is not a trending topic'
“Welcome to diverse TV,” double winner Idris Elba joked toward the end of the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Saturday night, as the British star introduced a clip from Beasts of No Nation. Following an awards season marked by controversy over the all-white slate of acting nominees at this year’s Academy Awards, the SAG Awards highlighted a number of actors of color during the ceremony, including Elba, Uzo Aduba, and Viola Davis.
Backstage after winning best actress in a television drama for How to Get Away with Murder, Davis said she was “enjoying the moment,” but cautioned that a call for diverse voices in art should not be considered a fad.
“We have become a society of trending topics. Diversity is not a trending topic. It’s just not,” Davis said. “I’ve always considered myself an actor since I got my equity card in 1988. I’ve never put any limitations on myself. I felt like I could play Chekhov, any character in Chekhov and Shakespeare in Arthur Miller, in August Wilson. I see myself as an actor. No matter what is going on in the business, I will find a way to practice my art, and all of the actors of color who I know don’t place any limitations on themselves either. So regardless of what is going on with the Academy, regardless of what is going on in Hollywood, they will find a way to be excellent. We always have and we always will.”
In the wake of the Oscar nominations, Spike Lee, Jada Pinkett Smith, and her husband, Will Smith, said they would not attend this year’s Academy Awards. Asked about any boycotts of the ceremony, David said, “People should do what they want to do with the Oscars. If they want to watch it, that’s fine. If they don’t, that’s fine.”
But beyond the Oscars, Davis added, it is more important for viewers “to be open to the experience of the story.”
“I think that sometimes people feel like stories about people of color are not inclusive,” she said. “They’re very much inclusive. I mean, the works of August Wilson, which really pretty much made my career, is everyone’s story. I mean, when you watch Annalise [on How to Get Away With Murder], she’s not just a black woman, she is a woman going through her life, you know? And I feel like people forget that in our business, we can’t act alone. You need the actor, you need the writer, you need the director, and finally you need the audience. So I’m just saying, plop your money down to see Race, to see Dope, to see Straight Outta Compton, to see Selma, do support directors like Ava DuVernay, Lee Daniels, Spike Lee, that their stories are just as valid and as important as anyone else. That’s more important than boycotting, is openness.”
For a full list of SAG Awards winners, head here.
— Reporting by Marc Snetiker