‘Trial of the Chicago 7' cast wins at SAG Awards. And adds intrigue to Oscars
The Screen Actors Guild Awards were handed out Sunday night. Well, to be precise, they were actually awarded via Zoom last week and those pre-recorded segments were then broadcast in a brief, one-hour telecast Sunday.
Inevitably, the news of who won had already spread around town. While that didn’t leave much room for suspense, the leaks did free up everyone’s Easter Sunday — a cause for celebration even for those not fortunate enough to win. And those winners were historic: For the first time, all four individual movie honors went to actors of color.
The SAG Awards, voted on by the 129,500 active members of SAG-AFTRA, are a reliable precursor to the Oscars. All four individual SAG Awards film winners have gone on to take the Oscar in two of the last three years, including the 2020 quartet of Joaquin Phoenix, Renée Zellweger, Laura Dern and Brad Pitt. (Feels like 100 years ago, right?)
Will we see a similar sweep this year? Let’s take a closer look at how things might shake out at the Academy Awards on April 25.
Winner: “The Trial of the Chicago 7"
The past: The winner of this award went on to take the best picture Oscar 12 of 25 years, including last year when “Parasite” won both prizes. Still, it’s easily the SAG Awards’ least-trustworthy Oscar precursor. (The ensemble prize wasn’t awarded in 1994, the SAG Awards’ first year.)
Will history repeat itself? Nah. “Chicago 7" and “Minari” were the only two of SAG’s ensemble nominees even in the best picture race. Oscar front-runner “Nomadland” was absent because its cast was populated mostly by nonprofessional actors, and guild voters aren’t going to reward that. The ensemble omission used to be a big deal until recent years, when “The Shape of Water” and “Green Book” won the best picture Oscar without a SAG cast nomination. So “Nomadland” partisans have little cause for concern.
That said, there are people — some of them not even employed by Netflix (a number shrinking by the day in Hollywood) — who argue that Aaron Sorkin’s “Chicago 7" stands as a plausible alternative to a “Nomadland” Oscar coronation. It’s certainly a more conventional movie — a perfectly fine courtroom drama full of rousing idealism, Essential Truths and great acting. (With this deep bench, this movie was almost laboratory engineered to win the SAG ensemble award.) “Chicago 7" might not be most people’s favorite nominated movie, but it’s liked well enough to show up high on film academy members’ ranked preferential ballots.
But, honestly, I don’t know if “Chicago 7" is going to elicit that many second- or third-place picks. And if voters happened to see “Mangrove,” one of the five movies in Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe” anthology on Amazon Prime, they will come away with a clearer understanding of “Chicago 7’s” shortcomings in its approach to history. That the academy’s directors branch ignored Sorkin is a sign that a good many people are already hip to this knowledge.
Winner: Viola Davis, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
The past: SAG and the academy have matched 19 of 26 years, with Zellweger capturing both prizes last year.
Will history repeat itself? SAG Awards’ voters love Davis. This is her fifth individual win, encompassing four different projects. (She previously won for “The Help” and “Fences” and for her starring turn on ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder.”) Her win for her rather brief screen time (at least, for a lead turn) as the swaggering blues singer in “Ma Rainey” throws the Oscar race into disarray. (Hurray for intrigue!)
I’d think Carey Mulligan remains the favorite for “Promising Young Woman,” given the film’s overall strength with academy voters, including nominations for picture, director and original screenplay. (“Ma Rainey” was not nominated for best picture.) But Davis doesn’t have a lead actress Oscar (her “Fences” win came in supporting), and there might be a movement to show her respect in the primary category.
Winner: Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
The past: This category has been the most reliable indicator of Oscar victory, with SAG and the academy matching 21 of 26 times. There are occasional exceptions: Denzel Washington prevailed here three years ago, only to see Casey Affleck take the Oscar.
Will history repeat itself? Boseman has been the overwhelming favorite to win since voters first saw his electrifying turn as Levee, a Black musician raging at injustice and God as he fights for his place in the world. It’s the last chance to honor Boseman, not just for this excellent performance but also for a career marked by warmth, generosity and purpose. There’s no way the academy passes up that opportunity.
Winner: Yuh-Jung Youn, “Minari”
The past: The SAG award winner has gone on to take the Oscar 18 of 25 times. (Kate Winslet won this category in 2009 for “The Reader” but was nominated for — and won — the Oscar for lead actress for that performance.)
Will history repeat itself? This race looked like it could go any number of ways, particularly since the supporting actress Oscar has offered some surprises over the years. But Youn’s win feels like it’ll stick with the academy, if for no other reason that it’s a nice way to honor a movie that everyone likes. “Minari” is a wonderfully intimate and absorbing family drama that’s elevated to next-level greatness when Youn arrives midway through the film.
Winner: Daniel Kaluuya, “Judas and the Black Messiah”
The past: The SAG winner has gone on to win the Oscar 17 times in 26 years, including Pitt’s victory (and subsequent stand-up routine) last year.
Will history repeat itself? After Kaluuya’s costar LaKeith Stanfield earned a surprise Oscar nomination in supporting (Warner Bros. had campaigned for him in lead), there was some concern that the two great actors might divide the votes among the “Judas” contingent, leading to a victory for someone else. (Perhaps “Chicago 7" standout Sacha Baron Cohen?) That could still happen, but Kaluuya’s SAG win strengthens his front-runner status. And hopefully, Stanfield gets his Oscar somewhere down the road.
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