For a moment there, it looked like the casts of “Beasts of No Nation” or “Straight Outta Compton” might be poised for a stunner at the 22nd annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. On the heels of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, SAG-AFTRA produced what felt, at least in part, like a message to the industry: a roll call of winners marked by diversity.
The cast of “Orange is the New Black” won, as did one of the show’s principals, Uzo Aduba. “Beasts” star Idris Elba triumphed in the supporting actor film category, then he double-dipped in the actor – TV movie or miniseries category for his performance in BBC America’s “Luther.” In the corresponding actress field, Queen Latifah won for HBO’s “Bessie,” while in the actress – TV drama category, Viola Davis added another SAG prize to her mantle for ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder.”
The issue was addressed a couple of times on stage, first by “Orange” star Laura Prepon and then by Elba. “Welcome to diverse TV,” he quipped.
Two things should at least be noted here. First, Netflix sent free three-month subscriptions to the entire SAG-AFTRA membership, greatly helping to expose “Beasts” and “Orange” to voters. (Hard copy screeners of “Beasts” were also mailed out to all 116,000-plus members, a measure taken by only a handful of film contenders.) Second, perceived Oscar frontrunner Sylvester Stallone was not nominated by SAG-AFTRA, largely because the momentum behind “Creed” took hold after the guild’s early deadlines this season.
All of that said, it was still an interesting contrast. By the time the intrigue of the film ensemble category finally rolled around, many on the beat no doubt already had their headlines ready to roll.
But something of interest did happen when Demi Moore opened the night’s final envelope: After “The Big Short” came on strong last weekend with a Producers Guild victory, Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight” proved to still be very much in the thick of it. The ensemble prize has been a best picture harbinger as many times as it hasn’t, sporting a 10/20 success rate, but it’s nevertheless a crucial win with final Oscar ballots still waiting to go out.
Stars Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton took time to shed a sincere light on the issue presented in their film. “This is for the disenfranchised everywhere,” Keaton said, taking it broader in closing with a second-straight SAG ensemble prize in hand. “This is for every Flint, Michigan in the world. This is for the powerful who take advantage of the powerless.”
It was an interesting note in the face of a movie like “The Big Short,” a case study in how the powerful maintain that advantage — even if it means collapsing an economy.
Elsewhere, all Oscar frontrunners reigned — Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Revenant”), finally sailing to a win after being nominated for much more complex work in the past; Brie Larson (“Room”), putting some more distance between herself and Saoirse Ronan; and Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl”), cruising to a supporting Oscar win for her leading performance.
The DGA chimes in next weekend. Will the directors clarify the race or keep the waters muddy?