Supporting acting awards went to Idris Elba and Alicia Vikander at the 22nd Screen Actors Guild Awards, where Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black repeated for best ensemble in a television comedy series.
Amid continuing uproar over diversity in Academy Award nominees, the SAG Awards offered a stark antidote to the rancor that has characterized Hollywood’s awards season. Awards were handed out to Queen Latifah, Uzo Aduba, Viola Davis and Elba (twice), as the screen actors cast a loud vote in favor of diversity on big and small screens.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to diverse TV,” said Elba in his third trip on stage as a presenter, following wins for his supporting performance in the Netflix child soldier drama Beasts of No Nation and his lead performance in the BBC miniseries Luther.
Elba made no direct reference to the crisis that has swept through Hollywood in the last two weeks – which might have been far less severe had he been nominated by the Academy Awards, as many expected. But it was on the minds and tongues of seemingly everyone in Los Angeles’ Shrine Auditorium on Saturday night.
Accepting the ensemble award for Orange Is the New Black, co-star Laura Prepon gestured to the cast of the prison comedy standing behind her.
“Look at this stage,” said Prepon at Los Angeles’ Shrine Auditorium. “This is what we talk about when we talk about diversity.”
Though SAG winners the last three have exactly corresponded with Oscar winners, that won’t happen this year with Elba passed over by the academy. The category’s perceived favorite is Sylvester Stallone for the Rocky sequel Creed; he wasn’t nominated for the SAG award.
Vikander, the breakout star of 2015, won for best supporting actress for her performance in the transgender pioneer tale “The Danish Girl,” cementing her as the Oscar favorite. The Swedish actress remembered, as a girl, watching her mother perform in plays.
“I learned then and I know still that acting is not in a bubble, that magic only happens between acting companions,” said Vikander, who then thanked her co-star Eddie Redmayne.
Actors make up the largest branch of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, which is why the SAG Awards are a closely watched harbinger of the Oscars. But the Screen Actors Guild is massive by comparison: some 160,000 members to the academy’s 6,000-plus. Voting for the SAG Awards, which concluded Friday, also overlapped with the widespread debate over the industry’s inclusiveness that followed Academy Awards nominations that resurrected the ”OscarsSoWhite” backlash of last year.
Latifah gave one of the evening’s most stirring speeches while accepting the award for most outstanding female performance in a TV movie or miniseries for HBO’s Bessie Smith tale Bessie.
“I hope that anyone out there who does not come in the package that people say you should, keep fighting for it,” said Latifah. “Flip those rocks over. Keep pushing, keep turning, you can do it. You build your own boxes, not people. So knock that thing away and do you!”
Backstage, Latifah said diversity was good business: “Hopefully our business will continue to supply the demand that people are asking for. The people want it, give it to the people.”
Aduba, accepting her second straight SAG Award for best actress in a comedy in Orange Is the New Black, didn’t address the topic straight on. But she praised creator Jenji Kohan for making “a show that reflects and represents so many people.”
Best actor in a TV comedy went to Jeffery Tambor for the acclaimed Amazon series Transparent.
The great comedian Carol Burnett accepted the SAG lifetime achievement award from presenters Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.
Recalling the uphill battle she faced, Burnett remembered being warned that “comedy variety is a man’s game.” She then dramatically shook her head and mouthed: “No.”
Surveying the room, she concluded: “I’m so glad we had this time together.”