The Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture may be the cinematic awards circuit’s most impressionable entity. The category is hardly limited by its own definition, having recognized ensembles with as many as 24 members (Bobby) and as few as three (Million Dollar Baby). It's looked upon comedy with more esteem than have its cohorts, allotting wins and nominations to the likes of The Birdcage, Bridesmaids, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. It has even tossed honors towards the sorts of pictures that never earn Academy attention: Get Shorty, The Station Agent, and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel among them. So why then does such a uniquely liberal film award seem newly inclined to limit its vision to male-oriented casts alone? The 2016 SAG nominees for Outstanding Cast Performance is dominated by men, and that's an issue.
This year's nominees include Beasts of No Nation, The Big Short, Spotlight, Straight Outta Compton, and Trumbo. In fact, of the 38 actors represented across these five ensembles, only six are women: Melissa Leo and Marisa Tomei in The Big Short, Rachel McAdams in Spotlight, and Diane Lane and Helen Mirren in Trumbo. Beasts of No Nation, for which only three actors make up the ensemble, includes no women; nor does Straight Outta Compton’s nominated cast, composed of six actors.
It’d be foolish and hypocritical to disparage the Screen Actors Guild for reaching outside the usual nomination pool; they did, after all, include the largely unseen and moreover unheralded Beasts of No Nation and Trumbo. However, that doesn't change the fact that a category aching for treasured ensembles rich with female talent providing us with few of them among the nominees should incite a few silent questions. And it isn’t as though 2015 has been wanting for worthy candidates. A simple glance at the SAG’s Lead and Supporting Female Actor categories offers a few viable suggestions for how to better fill out the Outstanding Cast roster with deserving women.
Carol, for which Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are nominated, boasts terrific supporting performances by Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chandler, and Jake Lacy. Saoirse Ronan’s starring turn in Brooklyn is backed up by the skills and charms of Julie Walters, Jane Brennan, Fiona Glascott, Eileen O’Higgins, Emily Bett Rickards, Eve Macklin, Nora Jane Noone, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, and Jim Broadbent.
Looking past the SAG’s standing Female Actor nominees, a slew of exemplary female-led ensembles from the past year come to mind, both large (Leyonah Parris leads a powerhouse team of dozens in Chi-Raq) and small (Clouds of Sils Maria is handled almost exclusively by Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloe Graze Moretz, and expertly so).
It is vexing that the Screen Actors Guild would opt for multiple male-dominated entries at the expense of nominating any in this group of strong, affecting female-rich films. What’s especially curious is that the institution couldn't have been chided for gender bias in years past. The Outstanding Cast category has nominated the likes of How to Make an American Quilt, The Hours, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Dreamgirls, Hairspray, Doubt, Precious, and August: Osage County, and granted the trophy to Chicago, Little Miss Sunshine, and The Help.
But this year, the category is overlooking the blustering chemistry inhabited by the stars of Carol, likewise the delights and sorrows of Brooklyn as delivered by way of its many tiers of vibrant characters. The rhythmic chaos of Chi-Raq's army and tempered psychological politics of Clouds of Sils Maria's central trio too go unheralded. Of course, this is not to deny right of acclaim to the entirety of the Outstanding Cast's nominations list. But are we really expected to believe that a collection of the best acting arrangements in this past calendar year involved only six woman? Total? That just doesn't seem right.
Images: Open Road Films; Fox Searchlight Pictures; Roadside Attractions