Viola Davis Takes Over Kerry Washington’s Drama Actress Slot: Do Awards Voters Still Have a Diversity Problem?

While Hollywood calls for diversity, Wednesday’s SAG nominations open up questions as to how much it’ll allow

Viola Davis, Kerry Washington

The SAG nominations kicked off the awards season on Wednesday and may also have revealed a glaring and lingering diversity problem in Hollywood.

ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder” star Viola Davis nabbed a nomination for her brilliant work in the mystery drama, but “Scandal” star Kerry Washington didn’t.

Does that mean Washington’s “Scandal” performance wasn’t as great this past year as in 2013 when she was first nominated by the Guild? Or, does that mean there’s only room for one black female lead in the minds of voters?

The first question is, of course, the result of opinion. But, this television critic doesn’t believe that Washington’s performance has ever lapsed. At the top of the game for TV’s dramatic actresses, she should have been a shoo-in for a SAG nomination again this year.

The latter question is a pretty disturbing one and one that may not even be at the forefront of the minds of SAG awards voters, a randomly chosen selection of 2,100 Guild members, when they fill in their ballots.

Of course, Washington’s nomination history for a SAG award isn’t as deep as the one she has for the Emmys, which she received nominations for in 2013 and 2014. And the Golden Globes also saw fit to nominate her only once before, in 2014, just like the SAGs.

But if it’s true that there’s only room for one black leading actress in the run for awards, then Hollywood isn’t as progressive-minded as we believe ourselves to be.

Further, the snub means that Shonda Rhimes basically executive produced a role in Davis’ Annalise Keating that would overshadow her other show’s star and stunt the momentum of getting TV’s first black leading lady in more than 40 years to the podium. That shouldn’t tarnish the producer’s efforts, but it’s certainly no way to honor them.

As I previously mentioned, this is just the start of awards season. So, we’ll have to see how this plays out in Thursday’s Golden Globes announcement and then on to the Primetime Emmys next summer.

It’s clear to me that both actresses deserved to be nominated. Davis is a wonder to behold on “How to Get Away With Murder.” At the same time, the level of performance Washington brings to “Scandal’s” Olivia Pope hasn’t lessened in the past year. So, what’s changed, other than another black actress is in the race?

It’s a question we’ll need to consider as Hollywood deepens its programming with diverse leads, but possibly holds a limited space in its collective mind for honoring them.