An Oscar season that has had no clear, sustained front-runner took another twist at Sunday evening’s Screen Actors Guild Awards, as Hollywood’s actors — representing the largest voting bloc of the motion picture academy — gave their highest honor to “Black Panther.”
The victory for the Marvel superhero smash, the highest-grossing film of the year, follows its landmark achievement earlier this month when it became the first comic book movie ever to land a best picture Oscar nomination.
Accepting the award, star Chadwick Boseman acknowledged the importance of the film — whose ensemble beat out the casts of “BlacKkKlansman,” “A Star Is Born,” “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Crazy Rich Asians” — as a milestone in Hollywood’s long, slow march toward greater inclusivity both in front of and behind the camera.
“We all know what it’s like to be the tail but not the head,” Boseman said. “We know what it’s like to be beneath but not above. That’s what we went to work with every day. We knew that we had something special that we wanted to give the world, that we could be full human beings in the roles we were playing.”
This year’s unpredictable awards race has seen different films appear to take the pole position at varying times. The win for “Black Panther” — which has earned seven Oscar nominations — could be a good omen for its Academy Awards chances.
Over the last 25 years, roughly half of the winners of the ensemble prize have gone on to win best picture at the Oscars, though last year’s victor, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” ultimately lost out to “The Shape of Water” (which was not nominated for the SAG ensemble prize).
That said, both “The Favourite” and “Roma” — which lead the pack with 10 Oscar nominations each — failed to score ensemble nods from SAG.
SAG also overlooked “Roma” stars Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira, who both earned Oscar nominations. “Vice” was also snubbed in this year’s ensemble category despite earning multiple individual nominations.
Should any of those films ultimately prevail on Oscar night, they would be bucking history. In the last 23 years, only two films have gone on to win best picture after failing to earn SAG ensemble nominations.
Rami Malek won lead actor for his turn as Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” following his win earlier this month at the Golden Globes. (In accepting the award, Malek again neglected any mention of the film’s credited director, Bryan Singer, who was fired from the project and has faced allegations of sexual misconduct, all of which he has denied.)
Glenn Close took home the lead actress prize for her role in “The Wife,” a win that, coming on the heels of her victory at the Golden Globes, makes her the clear favorite to finally win her first Oscar after seven nominations.
Last year’s SAG Awards ceremony, coming in the midst of the industry’s sexual harassment scandals, was dominated by issues of gender discrimination and at times wrenchingly emotional speeches. By contrast, this year’s show was a relatively lighter affair, with host Megan Mullally cracking that a SAG Award was “the greatest honor an actor can receive this weekend.”
“Obviously we still have a ways to go, but in 2018 Hollywood did manage to get a few things right,” Mullally joked in her opening monologue. “They cast black people in ‘Black Panther,’ Asian people in ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and a green book in ‘Green Book.’ ”
At the same time, Mullally wryly pointed to lingering issues when it comes to gender in Hollywood. “Roles for women continue to break new ground,” she said with sarcasm. “Glenn Close played a wife, so that’s new. Melissa McCarthy portrayed a woman who repeatedly apologizes and asks our forgiveness [in ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’]. Emily Blunt played a nanny [in ‘Mary Poppins Returns’].”
In the night’s biggest surprise, Blunt won the supporting actress prize for her largely dialogue-free performance in the horror hit “A Quiet Place.” But despite also receiving a SAG nomination for her role in “Mary Poppins Returns,” Blunt failed to crack into this year’s Oscar acting race. That leaves the field open for her fellow nominees, including Amy Adams of “Vice” and “The Favourite” co-stars Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, as well as Regina King, who won the Golden Globe but was overlooked by SAG for “If Beale Street Could Talk.”
Mahershala Ali won the supporting actor award for his role as virtuoso pianist Don Shirley in “Green Book.” In 2017, Ali used his acceptance speech for the drama “Moonlight” to plead for more tolerance in the wake of Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. Despite controversies that have swirled around “Green Book” in recent weeks, he steered clear of politics this year.
On the TV side, Prime Video’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” — which failed to earn any SAG nominations last year for its debut season — made a clean sweep of the comedy categories, picking up the ensemble prize as well as individual awards for actor Tony Shalhoub and actress Rachel Brosnahan. NBC’s “This Is Us” picked up its second consecutive ensemble prize in the drama series category.
Sandra Oh claimed the prize for actress in a drama series for the debut season of BBC America’s “Killing Eve,” after her win last month at the Golden Globes. Jason Bateman took home the award for actor in a drama series for the sophomore season of Netflix’s “Ozark,” beating out, among others, “This Is Us” star Sterling K. Brown, who many expected to repeat after his win last year.
In the limited series categories, Darren Criss won for his performance in FX’s “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,” while Patricia Arquette was honored for her turn in Showtime’s “Escape at Dannemora.” In an otherwise conspicuously Trump-free evening, Arquette delivered the sharpest political barb with a shout-out to special counsel Robert Mueller and “everyone working to make sure we have sovereignty for the United States of America.”
Alan Alda earned a SAG Life Achievement Award — and a warm standing ovation — in recognition of his illustrious career, including his much-loved role as “Hawkeye” Pierce on the long-running TV hit “M.A.S.H.”
Accepting the award, Alda, who disclosed last year that he has Parkinson’s disease, made the case for the importance of the craft of acting in boosting people’s capacity for empathy, noting it is especially critical in today’s deeply fractured political climate.
“This comes at a time when I’ve had a chance to look back on my life and think about what it’s meant to be an actor,” Alda said. “It may never have been more urgent to see the world through another person’s ideas than when the culture is divided so sharply. Actors can help, at least a little, just by doing what we do.”