This Is The Problem With The SAG Television Nominations

Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
There’s a lot of good in the 2018 SAG Awards television nominations. Big Little Lies continues to reign supreme during awards season. Glow got just as much love, tying Lies as the most-nominated series. Women of all ages — 13 to 79! — were nominated. Yet, when you zoom out a little bit, there’s one big problem looming over all the applause-worthy news: the women holding up their award-nominated shows didn’t get a drop of Screen Actors Guild appreciation. Namely, Game Of Thrones and Godless are two shows that can only run thanks to the women filling their screens and stories. Yet those ladies weren’t nominated. However, their male counterparts very much were. And, this problem isn’t limited to the 2018 SAGs.
Game Of Thrones has been dealing with this issue for years. When Thrones burst onto the scene, the HBO epic first netted only Outstanding Drama Ensemble nominations, which are the actor-focused guild’s version of a Best Drama contest. All of that changed for the 2014 awards, when Tyrion Lannister’s portrayer Peter Dinklage was also nominated for Outstanding Actor In A Drama Series. If you look back, this nomination was for the season where Brienne Of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) practically carried Jamie Lannister on her back, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) iconically announced, “All men must die, but we are not men,” after annihilating the Good Masters, and Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) served face for one of the most memorable deaths in television history. None of these women got a nomination.
And what was award-nominated Tyrion’s big moment in season 3? Marrying a woman, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), and having relationship issues with another woman, Shae (Sibel Kekilli). Subsequently, Dinklage, who is legitimately fantastic on Thrones, has been nominated every year since the 2014 awards. His women co-stars – and the men, for that matter — have never been so lucky.
While that fact feels generally appalling as the women of Westeros have been the most powerful force in the Seven Kingdom for seasons, this kind of snubbing feels especially egregious this past year of Thrones. This is the season where women literally ran everything, down to the woods of the Riverlands. The obvious powerhouses were Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and Daenerys, who battled it out in their respective castles, fighting metaphorical fire with actual dragon fire.
But, the more interesting acting was happening in the north of Westeros, where Sansa and her sister Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) were coming to terms with their complicated reunion after years apart. Technically, the Stark sisters were happy to be back with their sole surviving family members, in their ancestral family home no less, but the pair were also wildly different people from who they were seasons ago.
The last time they were together, Sansa was a royal mean girl obsessed with marrying a prince, while Arya was a tomboy trying to learn swordsmanship. Now, at least half a decade later, Sansa is a sexual assault survivor, pragmatic master manipulator, and genuinely adept leader. On the other side, Arya is a world-traveling assassin who studied in a death cult’s church. Remember, immediately before Arya arrived at Winterfell she murdered every single man in the Frey family for revenge.
Both Williams and Turner played the complexities of this should-be-simply-happy homecoming with the kind of aplomb you might not even notice while watching. Yet, now, four months later, I still feel anxiety over how these two young women dominated that creepy showdown in Arya’s bedroom, which included masks of dead people’s faces and threats of murder. In the next episode, the siblings’ finale execution of the treacherous Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen) could make a viewer cheer from their seat. While women were driving the action throughout Westeros, the men — including Dany’s right hand man Tyrion — were simply reacting to their whims, and sometimes dying because of them.
Speaking of reactive characters, Godless’ lack of women nominations for a show centrally set in an all-woman town speaks to the series’ greatest flaw: the lack of agency for the ladies of La Belle. Hypothetically, someone as scene stealing as the britches-wearing Mary Agnes (the fantastic Merritt Wever) should be a major awards draw for a gorgeously-produced Netflix miniseries from an Oscar nominee like Steven Soderbergh.
But, neither Wever nor the other actresses populating her Western have gotten a single nod for their indelible performance as award season ramps up. On the other hand, villain Jeff Daniels picked up a SAG nomination and a Critics Choice Television nod. Dreamy gunslinger Jack O’Connell also got a Critic’s Choice nod. If you didn’t already believe Godless dropped the ball as a “feminist Western,” as creator-director-producer Scott Frank always denied was his aim, this should be your proof.
While looking at these series, it becomes pretty clear women can dominate the awards circuit when their show is intrinsically about being a woman. Big Little Lies is one of the greatest feminist offerings on television of 2017, while Glow shed light on a rarely seen facets of feminine life. Both series, which, again, are the most-nominated TV shows in the 2018 SAGs, cannot be described without using the word “women.” Yet, on their surface, both Thrones and Godless don’t fall into those categories. The former is the greatest fantasy epic of our time, which is far more concerned with the machinations of power than any specific gender; the latter brandished the promise of “No Man’s Land” in advertising, but boils down to a violent revenge tale between two guys.
It’s good to see actresses shine when they’re unveiling the little-spoken-about lives of women — but maybe they should get equal props when their womanhood is only a small part of their onscreen story?
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