Five black actors, ranging from a television superstar to a Somali-born newcomer, have earned Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations for their film performances, a reflection of an especially strong year for movies featuring actors of color.
The movie that won the most film nominations was "12 Years a Slave." Steve McQueen's unblinking portrait of slavery received four nominations, including for cast in a motion picture. "Lee Daniels' The Butler," about a White House servant who is a witness to civil rights history, collected three nominations, one of them for talk show host and mogul Oprah Winfrey.
In the male actor in a leading role category, SAG acknowledged British performer Chiwetel Ejiofor for his role as Solomon Northup, a free black man who is kidnapped and sold in "12 Years a Slave," and Forest Whitaker, as the title character in "Lee Daniels' The Butler."
In the nominations announced Wednesday, the guild singled out Somali native Barkhad Abdi for male actor in a supporting role, for playing a pirate in Paul Greengrass' thriller "Captain Phillips." Also receiving nominations were Lupita Nyong'o, who plays a brutalized slave in McQueen's film, and Winfrey, who plays Whitaker's wife in "Lee Daniels' The Butler," in the female actor in a supporting role category.
"It's really an honor," Abdi said in an interview about his nomination. "A negative light has been shed on Somalia for a long time, and this [nomination] will be a positive light.... I lived in Somalia. I lived through war. I put myself in the character's shoes. I put all that in my head."
The 20th SAG Awards nominations did little to clarify Oscar's best picture race. The guild's motion picture cast award is typically one of the more reliable early indicators of how the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will vote on the Oscars. But of the films nominated for the ensemble prize, only "12 Years a Slave" is considered a clear Oscar favorite.
The other nominees in the category — David O. Russell's crime caper "American Hustle," John Wells' family dramedy "August: Osage County," "Lee Daniels' The Butler" and Jean-Marc Vallée's biographical drama "Dallas Buyers Club" — are not considered sure bets in the best picture race.
The SAG-AFTRA union has more than 165,000 members, but nominees for the awards are chosen by 2,100 voters.
In addition to the ensemble nomination and nods for Ejiofor and Nyong'o, "12 Years a Slave" collected a supporting actor nomination for Michael Fassbender, who plays a cruel plantation owner.
Besides "Lee Daniels' The Butler," two other films — "August: Osage County" and "Dallas Buyers Club" — collected three nominations each. "American Hustle," "Captain Phillips" and Alexander Payne's black-and-white road movie "Nebraska" collected two apiece.
Awards handicappers analyzed the nominees for snubs and surprises. "Saving Mr. Banks," John Lee Hancock's drama about the making of "Mary Poppins" that arrives in theaters Friday, collected just one nomination, for lead actress Emma Thompson, while Martin Scorsese's con man comedy "The Wolf of Wall Street" was shut out of the nominations entirely, though the film, which will be released on Christmas, has not yet screened widely.
The nominations for male actor in a leading role largely followed expectations, except for the exclusion of Robert Redford, whose performance as a resourceful sailor in J.C. Chandor's survival film "All Is Lost" had been critically praised. In addition to Ejiofor and Whitaker, SAG singled out Bruce Dern, as a cantankerous patriarch in "Nebraska," Tom Hanks, as the kidnapped merchant mariner in "Captain Phillips," and Matthew McConaughey, as an unlikely activist in the 1980s AIDS crisis in "Dallas Buyers Club."
"I finally made the all-star team, and I've played a long time in this league," Dern said in an interview about earning his first SAG nomination at age 77. The actor's last trip to the Oscars was in 1979, when he was nominated for "Coming Home," "back when there were covered wagons," he said.
In the female actor in a leading role category, the field was stacked with previous Oscar winners over 40 — in addition to Thompson, the guild acknowledged Cate Blanchett as a troubled New York socialite in "Blue Jasmine," Sandra Bullock as an astronaut in a terrifying space accident in "Gravity," Judi Dench as a mother who is forced to give up her child in "Philomena" and Meryl Streep as a prickly, pill-popping matriarch in "August: Osage County."
In the supporting actor category, in addition to Abdi and Fassbender, SAG rewarded a sentimental favorite, James Gandolfini, who died in June before audiences saw his performance in the romantic comedy "Enough Said," as well as Daniel Bruhl, of Ron Howard's Formula One movie "Rush," and Jared Leto, who plays a cross-dressing AIDS victim in "Dallas Buyers Club."
"Dallas Buyers Club" is one movie that came out of the SAG Awards nominations looking stronger than it had — critics groups have tended to like its individual performances more than the film as a whole.
"It's been a very crowded landscape, and a lot of these nominations have been split," said "Dallas Buyers Club" producer Robbie Brenner. "Critics have been split.... Because it's such a crowded landscape we thought we'd be recognized in certain categories — Matthew and Jared have been getting recognized a lot. But it's a huge honor to be nominated [for cast].... Anything can happen. I don't want to get ahead of myself, but the outpouring of emotion is overwhelming."
Awards watchers will have more to debate when the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. announces the Golden Globes nominations Thursday morning.
The SAG Awards will be handed out Jan. 18.
Times staff writers Jeffrey Fleishman, Amy Kaufman and Steven Zeitchik contributed to this report.
'2013 Screen Actors Guild Awards'
Where: TBS and TNT
When: 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18