SAG Awards putting spotlight on women amid #MeToo, Time's Up movements

It's easy to dismiss the Screen Actors Guild Awards as just another Hollywood accolade, but this year's show is trying to add heft to women's empowerment.

All 13 Screen Actors Guild awards to be presented by women, including Emma Stone, Halle Berry, Lupita Nyong'o

The Actor statues are seen during preparations for the 24th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. All 13 awards will be handed out by women for the first time. ( Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

It's easy to dismiss Sunday's Screen Actors Guild Awards as just another Hollywood accolade, but this year's show could carry some hefty messages when it comes to women's empowerment, gender equality and sexual harassment.

"I think it's difficult," Canadian actress Amanda Brugel told CBC News in Los Angeles. "I think there are some grey areas but I also think that it's time that we have these discussions and it's so important that when you do have a platform like the Golden Globes or the SAG Awards, that you speak."

Brugel is nominated for outstanding ensemble in a drama series for The Handmaid's Tale alongside her cast members.

The actress, who is nominated with her cast for The Handmaid's Tale, explains the importance of speaking about women's empowerment 0:56

'Celebrating and honouring women'

The SAG Awards, which are given to actors and voted on by their peers, honour both film and television. For the first time, all 13 statues will be handed out by an all-women slate of presenters, including Halle Berry, Lupita Nyong'o, Emma Stone and Brie Larson. Frozen's Kristen Bell will host.

SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris will attend with Canadian actress-turned-activist Chantal Cousineau. Cousineau was among the dozens of women who came forward with complaints about filmmaker James Toback and continues to lobby for policy changes.

"We're going to be celebrating and honouring women this year," said Elizabeth McLaughlin, a SAG Awards committee member. "I think it's very telling that the Time's Up movement and the MeToo movement are so timely with our show."

MeToo, which was initiated by activist Tarana Burke and exploded as a hashtag on social media following allegations against Harvey Weinstein, became an avenue for people to share their experiences.

Time's Up, geared toward battling sexual harassment in the workplace, has raised millions for a legal fund benefiting victims. Both featured prominently at the Golden Globe Awards two weeks ago, with most men and women wearing black in solidarity with victims of sexual assault and harassment.

From left to right: Reese Witherspoon, Eva Longoria, Salma Hayek and Ashley Judd were among the many actors wearing black as a statement during the Golden Globe Awards on Jan. 7 in Los Angeles. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Laura Go​mez, who's nominated for a SAG award as part of the Orange Is The New Black ensemble, says more women behind the camera can help take the movement forward in the entertainment industry.

"Because there's a level of equality and balance of power," she told CBC News. "And that's kind of what the fight is about."

Reaction to Ansari, Franco unpredictable

It's a fight that has also seen some divisions, and Sunday's ceremony leaves room for varied reactions to situations which aren't so black-and-white.

Aziz Ansari, who's nominated for the comedy Master of None and took home a Golden Globe this year for the role, apologized after being recently accused by an anonymous woman of improper behaviour during a date. The story raised several ethical questions about its news value after it was initially reported.

James Franco, who also won a Golden Globe and is nominated for his film, The Disaster Artist, was accused by several women of sexual misconduct after he was spotted wearing a Time's Up pin. He has disputed the allegations as being "not accurate." 

James Franco flanked by Tommy Wiseau, left, and Dave Franco, right, accepts his Golden Globe for The Disaster Artist on Jan. 7. After he was spotted wearing a Time's Up pin, multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct. He has denied the allegations. (Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

Both are front-runners in their respective categories and the audience's reception remains unpredictable should either win.

Soapbox or platform?

Until now, the SAG awards' biggest claim to fame is usually its ability to foresee Academy Award outcomes in the acting categories. Over the last five years, the show has correctly predicted the best actress Oscar winner each time and the best actor winner, four times out of five.

But this year is about much more.

"So often, actors get put into a specific bubble of feeling like they can or cannot say or talk about what they're passionate about," McLaughlin said. "I think the SAG Awards are a unique exception to that."

Brugel says this year in particular is bound to include some interesting commentary.

"Awards are lovely," Brugel said. "But if you can use a couple seconds to sort of talk about issues that are on everyone's mind, especially when it's coming into their living room, I think that people really appreciate it."

About the Author

Zulekha Nathoo

Multi-media reporter, L.A.

Zulekha Nathoo is based in Los Angeles and has sat down with some of Hollywood's biggest names, including Denzel Washington, Cameron Diaz, Robert Downey Jr. and Matthew McConaughey. She also works as a CBC News on-air reporter, and has spent more than a decade at stations across Canada.