While the Oscars are generally considered the most prestigious awards in film, for actors the Screen Actors Guild Award also have special significance. Unfortunately for the actors in Fox Searchlight’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, because the low-budget film was not produced by the guidelines of SAG-AFTRA’s Low Budget Feature Agreement its actors will not be eligible for the SAG Awards.
With a budget of only $1.3 million and a desire for realism, director Benh Zeitlin cast locals in most roles, including lead actors Quvenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry, neither of whom have ever acted before (thus they were not members of SAG-AFTRA). Fox Searchlight and the film’s international distributors could potentially restore the film’s eligibility by bringing the film into compliance with the Low Budget Feature Agreement, but that would mean all the companies would have to pay the actors more, something they’re not likely to do just to restore eligibility.
Regardless, Zeitlin doesn’t feel like Wallis and Henry are missing out on much even if they aren’t eligible. He told The Hollywood Reporter, “Against all logic and planning, two incredible first-time actors won the lead roles in Beasts. I’m positive they both have long and amazing acting careers in front of them.” In fact, both will appear in director Steve McQueen‘s Twelve Years a Slave that is due out next year.
The film’s lack of eligibility for the SAG Awards might hurt the Oscar chances of the film, as nominations and wins throughout awards season tend to build Oscar buzz among Oscar voters (many of whom are also SAG-AFTRA members). Of course, Fox Searchlight can build Oscar buzz for the film in other ways since the SAG Awards aren’t the only game in town, and many actors who weren’t nominated for an SAG award for a film performance still wind up being nominated for an Oscar for the same performance.