Black Panther winning the SAG Ensemble award made sense. A+ Cinemascore, groundbreaking, history-making superhero movie with a large cast of very well-known actors who had excellent chemistry throughout the film meets a voting body of roughly 150,000 SAG/AFTRA members. Meet the new SAG, not like the old SAG. Otherwise, how could Emily Blunt have scored the rarity of a win without an Oscar nomination? The only nominee who has ever won the SAG without that necessary Oscar nod was Idris Elba, who won for Beasts of No Nation — another victory that happened after the merger. Emily Blunt may well won because she was a double nominee (though a similar setup didn’t click for Amy Adams), but Blunt’s win was also a good illustration of how much the SAG has changed with AFTRA in the mix.
Immediately after its SAG nomination, people began to wonder what might happen if Black Panther won the SAG. Well, if it had nominations in directing, writing, and acting, it would have a better shot (at least stats-wise) of winning Best Picture. And it could still win: never underestimate the desire of voters to make history in one way or another. But a Best Picture win would be a result of the momentum it gains by not being hobbled as most of the other options seem to be.
The Best Picture race continues to be a crossroads of three difficult paths for Oscar voters. Awarding Black Panther would be to award the type of film many more traditional voters feel is ruining Hollywood: superhero movies. Yes, the epic example of inclusivity on such a grand scale helps Disney and Marvel overcome that hurdle. As they did with the Force Awakens, they can make themselves teflon in a way by being inclusive in their casting. Though it’s true that Ryan Coogler is the reason Black Panther is better than most of these franchise films — because he turned it into a story of deep authenticity, something you really just don’t expect from a blockbuster — it’s still, to some Oscar voters, that thing they most despise about modern Hollywood. After all, we’re still only a few years removed from the Best Picture choice that voters richly awarded as a jeremiad against superhero/franchise films.
The second fork in the road is to embrace streaming services. More specifically, the streaming service to beat all others: Netflix, which is kicking ass and taking names all over the place and is about to potentially conquer the Oscars too, thanks in large part to their hiring savvy Lisa Taback, the veteran publicist who has ushered many an Oscar contender to nominations and wins. But to many, like Steven Spielberg, it’s still “TV.” What does that mean to the big studios? Who is going to lose money on this? What are the Oscars supposed to be about now anyway? Who can say. Netflix offers a deus ex machina of sorts to auteurs. Imagine. You can make any movie you want and you don’t have to worry about opening weekend. You can screen your movie in New York and LA, and then the rest of the country and the world can catch it on Netflix. Is it the greatest adaptation ever or what? On the other hand, what of the “five families”? How are the voters going to react to this massive party crasher? Do they care? Do they not care? Are they resigned to it? Are more and more of them signing on for Netflix projects themselves? Do they just want to work, no matter who’s writing the checks? Hard to say.
Finally, the third option is the confrontation between art, the best of which is provocative, and Woketopia, which thrives on being provoked. At times, it seems that all Hollywood (and especially those who cover it) are fixated on anything that shows that they are appropriately inclusive, woke, vigilant, and hovering in their concern about people who don’t have the benefit of white male privilege to carry them aloft through an industry built on it. All well and good. Nobody disparages their awareness. The thrust of that awareness this year has been to scorn the awards being won by a movie that millions of others just plain like: Green Book. Who wants to award a movie that? Well, as it turns out, lots of industry people do. The Twitter blowback alone could literally power a rocket to the Moon, carrying a payload of extra flags. Bohemian Rhapsody has fallen victim to a quiver of slings and arrows too, although the complaints in that case are all over the map. It’s this, no it’s that. No it’s this other thing. NO, WE’RE JUST FUCKING MAD, ALRIGHT?! Well, okay then.
Can movies fix America? Can a movie like Black Panther make it so that no black men are shot on the street? Will its financial and awards success translate into more work for black actors and a power seat at the table? Or is it just the flavor of the month — one that will be yesterday’s news once Trump is out of office. For franchises like Disney, they look for simpler questions to answer. They just want to make money.
Gillette just wants to make money too, and to do that they needed a way to enhance their image to satisfy the needs of people who want to be seen in a certain light, who want to think of themselves in a way they want to be thought of. So they made a two-minute live action short, and instantly had hundreds of thousands of people invoking the name Gillette in a positive way. Outrage clickbait headlines magnetized well-meaning folks to comment sections across the country to go off on [insert whatever validation du jour satisfied the need to feel good and righteous]. Gillette was trending and razor blades were selling. Henceforth younger Millennials and post-Millennials will have a positive attitude about their products: gaze upon them approvingly in supermarket aisles and buy them, use them proudly, maybe even Instagram themselves using them because using this product says something about who they are and what they want to represent. It’s am honorable message, for sure, and it’s also a hat trick — a smart move toward woke-sanctioned branding that’s essential in today’s social climate. How best to sell to people whose predominate concern is presenting what they represent to the global tribe.
In many ways, the Disney thing isn’t all that different. They now sit at the forefront of blockbuster inclusion, proudly, so all the profits they make, all the tickets sold for the movies they make, will now enable everyone across the board to feel good about that. Movies, now more than ever. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so. but we’ll have to see how it all plays out. I was looking back at toys from 1975. American culture was in a similar kind of wave back then, with Black Power and Women’s Rights. Sure, hapless Gerald Ford was the accidental president and the nation was still struggling with the legacy of Nixon’s corruption, but culture was very much about representation. The Toys “R” Us ad I looked at had inclusive dolls — a rainbow of representation. But then, quietly, things changed back. It didn’t take long, either. All it took was Ronald Reagan to grab the nation’s rudder away from Jimmy Carter, and then it was 12 garish years of “greed is good.” If it didn’t make money, it wasn’t good. Disney, however, is finally disproving the idea that only white actors can set records on opening weekends. America is still 70% white, as is the Academy, but we are np longer exclusively looking to white heroes to tell us who we are, at least not right now.
I would, however, caution a bit of skepticism about how things appear to be changing. We’re still only talking about movies and gold statuettes.
So what have we learned here. What have the SAG Awards told us:
Glenn Close is the sure bet to win Best Actress, and with that, the only true moment of joy this race this year will bring me. Nothing makes me happier than seeing her win finally, after such a long, storied career. She has earned this. The hard way. People always say “I don’t believe in career Oscars.” Well, do you believe more in “I fell in love with this girl for a season” Oscars? Or “I just have a really good publicist” Oscars? Or “I’m voting for this person to send a message” Oscars? So yeah, career Oscars are as good a reason as any to win and I can’t think of a more worthy recipient.
EXCEPT SPIKE LEE — that BlacKkKlansman went home without a SAG win or a PGA win is starting to make me feel fretful that Spike Lee’s brilliant film may not win anything. I don’t know how many more at bats he’s going to have, and I also don’t know what it’s going to take for him to finally receive recognition from his peers. Is he going to make a movie that goes down more smoothly? Not bloody likely. Will he have to un-Spike Lee Joint his next effort in order to finally win? (As he did, to some extent, with Inside Man and 25th Hour). I don’t know. But I was hoping last night would boost the movie and give us a new frontrunner. It did not do that.
Rami Malek is probably going to win Best Actor. I say probably because we have to wait for BAFTA to say for sure. SAG has in the past been a very reliable stat for Best Actor. With AFTRA folded in, I am not sure how it will play out. Vice has key Oscar nominations — director, for instance, and screenplay. Does that mean it tips in Bale’s favor, as the one win for the film? I don’t know. But if I had to lay down money I’d go with Malek at this point.
Mahershala Ali deserves to win for his work in Green Book and I do believe he will win. I liked how he had Viggo’s and Peter Farrelly’s back at the mic. That was a ballsy move.
Supporting Actress is a big ol’ shitshow. Regina King was not nominated for the SAG or the BAFTA, meaning another actress could have stolen some momentum there. But Emily Blunt has no Oscar nod. BAFTA has Amy Adams, Claire Foy, Margot Robbie, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz. Neither Robbie nor Foy got an Oscar nod, and their spots went instead to Regina King and Marina de Tavira for Roma. There is the chance that de Tavira could surprise in this category, signaling a potential Roma sweep of the major categories. But I’d probably bet on Regina King to win this, as a career Oscar and a win for a film that is well-liked, in fact passionately adored, even without a Best Picture nod.
Next up, the DGA this weekend. One more month until the Oscars and then it will all be history.