FYI, SAG Awards, Visibility Means a Lot More Than Just Being Seen

The SAG Awards announced they'll have all-female presenters this year, but do they really get what visibility means?

Actress Kristen Bell with slicked back blonde hair, wearing a black and white dress

(Photo: Getty)

If you want to witness the biggest self-congratulatory, pat-on-the-back of all time, look no further than the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards’s recent announcement about the 2018 ceremony. In this week’s act of truly revolutionary proportions (not), the show’s executive director, Kathy Connell, told The New York Times that all of next year’s presenters will be women: “I want to salute women who are coming forward to speak at a very difficult time about very difficult subjects at great risk to themselves.”

Almost every major publication ate up what she said. But let’s not kid ourselves: This year’s sexual misconduct and violence allegations against powerful men, from Harvey Weinstein to Ben Affleck to Russell Simmons and countless others, has been frightening and disgusting, and while retribution has been swift in many cases, we’ve got to make sure the strong, empowered message we’re putting forward isn’t muddled in favour of ratings. Hands up if you’ve sometimes felt like the personal, horrifying #MeToo moments women have bravely come forward to share are now being used by certain organizations—ahem, SAG—to basically say, “Hey! We’re the good guys here!”

The gesture of a show hosted exclusively by women *seems* genuine enough when looking at the epic line-up of nominations. The Big Sick, Big Little Lies, Stranger Things and Lady Bird are all up for numerous awards, and it’s no coincidence that they feature strong roles played by women and people of colour—of all ages too, from 13 to 79. But if we step back a bit and really scrutinize who exactly is being nominated for shows like Game of Thrones and Godlesswhich both feature ensemble casts arguably propped up by strong female leads as well—we see that not much has changed this year. Only men have received individual nods from SAG.

The SAG Awards will also see its first-ever host, the hilarious and talented Kristen Bell, take the stage. While speaking to The New York Times, Bell acknowledged that SAG’s proposal shows a dedication to female representation, but she also said something that sums up our feelings on the decision pretty well: “I’m not the first female host. I’m the first host. The fact that a female was chosen to be the first one means my genitals become irrelevant.”

If the Screen Actor’s Guild’s actions are meant to increase female visibility, it’s important to note that visibility does not just mean being seen. Visibility means representation—not just in hosting award shows and handing out golden statues, but in being nominated and in being deliberately chosen to star in, write, direct and produce high-quality films and televisions shows. It means being invested in, being a priority, being paid equally, being spoken about for our talent, rather than for our appearance or who we’re married to. It also means not rewarding men who have taken advantage of women.

At the end of the day, celebrating that women will be handing out awards—a job that has never really been at the crux of Hollywood’s gender-inequality debate—feels like a parent giving a child a soother to quiet them. Of course it’s wonderful that we will soon watch a show that acknowledges how plentiful our world is with female talent. But it’s just as important to look at these decisions with a critical eye and say, You can do better. And if this is all truly in the spirit of female visibility, then let’s task them with more than handing out awards. Let’s keep these organizations accountable. Just because women were vocal this year, does not mean you can forget about them next year.

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