SAG Award Noms: Why the 'Roma' and 'Green Book' Campaigns Shouldn't Panic

roma and green book -Publicity- Split-H 2018
Courtesy of Netflix; Universal Studios

Leave it, as usual, to the SAG Awards to make us question our perceptions about the larger awards race.

Suddenly, after Wednesday morning's nominations announcement, the best picture prospects of BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody and Crazy Rich Asians have to be taken more seriously, since they joined A Star Is Born (with its field-leading four total noms) and Black Panther in the best ensemble category — the closest thing the SAG Awards have to a best picture category — claiming slots over films like The Favourite, which most assumed would get in. One also has to re-evaluate the prospects of A Quiet Place's Emily Blunt and Mary Queen of Scots' Margot Robbie, who landed best supporting actress slots over If Beale Street Could Talk's Regina King and First Man's Claire Foy. And one has to really worry about some totally MIA films — probably not so much Roma, for reasons I'll get to in a moment, but certainly Beale Street, First Man, Ben Is Back (no Lucas Hedges or Julia Roberts), Boy Erased (no Hedges or Nicole Kidman), Destroyer (no Kidman), Eighth Grade (no Elsie Fisher), First Reformed (no Ethan Hawke) and Widows (no Viola Davis), to name just a few.

The SAG Awards' film nominations are determined by a sizable nominating committee (comprised of roughly 2,500 people) drawn from the membership of SAG-AFTRA, America's largest union of actors (comprised of roughly 160,000 people). And there are plenty of factors that shape its decisions — often in ways different from other awards groups.

Their voting window began way back on Nov. 15, nearly a month ago, and though it extended through Sunday night, some nom-com members do cast their votes well before then, which can benefit titles that generated buzz early (such as Black Panther, A Quiet Place and BlacKkKlansman) and work against films that got hot later. Perhaps Vice, which landed noms for lead actor Christian Bale and supporting actress Amy Adams, or Mary Poppins Returns, for which Blunt scored a best actress nom, could have cracked best ensemble had there been a few more days of voting.

The committee tends to reward talent who are available to do post-screening Q&As and gladhanding (lovely Robbie certainly wasn't hurt by pressing the flesh), as opposed to others who are unavailable or unwilling to do so (it may have kept her co-star Saoirse Ronan, who has been in production on another film, from joining her on the list of nominees).

And they are an American organization, probably more receptive to theatrical work than other groups, as many members are New York-based, and almost never responsive to foreign films. Indeed, not even the biggest boosters of Roma ever thought the Mexican, Spanish-language film ever stood a shot with this group, particularly for a best ensemble nom — not because voters are deterred by black-and-white (see past ensemble nominees Good Night, and Good Luck and The Artist) or by Netflix (Beasts of No Nation and Mudbound), but because they have only nominated one fully non-English-language film for that award, and that was 20 years ago (Life Is Beautiful). It's simply harder to get SAG-AFTRA members to watch subtitled films than it is Academy members; the Academy is a much more international group whose members are accustomed to subtitles. And, further working against Roma was the fact that none of its cast members are people Americans have ever heard of before — or, for that matter, SAG-AFTRA members themselves.

I'd also give an excused absence to Green Book in the best ensemble category. Some will argue that its best picture Oscar prospects, like Roma's, took a hit on Wednesday morning because it did not receive a best ensemble SAG Award nomination, without which only two films in 23 years have still gone on to win the best picture Oscar (1995's Braveheart and 2017's The Shape of Water); some even think that a SAG ensemble snub was, in hindsight, the Waterloo for La La Land, even though, at the time, people explained away the situation by arguing that it was basically a two-hander and therefore not much of an ensemble film, which is what I would also say about Green Book (both of its stars, Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, were individually nominated). But I believe that, as Shape of Water showed us last season, this "rule" is less solid than it once was, partly because SAG Awards nominations and wins are now voted on not only by screen actors (SAG), but also radio actors (since the 2012 merger of SAG and AFTRA, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists); and partly because SAG Awards voters are no longer as much of a microcosm of the Academy as they once were, since the Academy has made a concerted push, over the last several years, to become not only considerably more diverse (never a problem for the SAG Awards), but also considerably more international.

The SAG Awards' final round of voting is open to all dues-paying SAG-AFTRA members and will take place Dec. 18-Jan. 25, ahead of the 25th SAG Awards ceremony on Jan. 27.