The star-studded cast of Aaron Sorkin’s 1960s audience drama The Trial of the Chicago 7 won top prize Sunday at a virtual Screen Actors Guild Awards where actors of color premiered on Sunday. times, have won the individual film awards.
The 27th SAG Awards, presented by Hollywood Actors Guild SAG-Aftra, was a muted affair – and not just because the no-red carpet ceremony was condensed into a zoom-heavy, pre-recorded hour-long show on TBS and TNT. The perceived Oscar favorite – Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland – was not nominated for Best Ensemble, which makes the SAG Awards carried over from this year less of an Oscar glimpse than it is in most years.
Still, the victory for Netflix’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 marked the first time a movie from any streaming service has won the Guild’s Overall Award. Written and directed by Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7 was scheduled for a theatrical release by Paramount Pictures before the pandemic struck, leading to its sale to Netflix. The streamer is still after his first Oscar win.
Frank Langella, who plays the judge who presided over the 1969 prosecution of activists arrested at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, drew parallels between the unrest then and today by accepting the award on behalf of the distribution.
“’God gives us rulers,’ Reverend Martin Luther King said before being shot in cold blood on that same date in 1968 – a deep injustice,” Langella said, citing the events that led to those dramatized in The Chicago Trial 7.
“Reverend King was right. We need leaders to make us hate us less. “
Victory came over two other versions of Netflix – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Da 5 Bloods – as well as Amazon’s One Night in Miami and A24’s Minari. Had Lee Isaac Chung’s Korean-American family drama won, it would have been the second year in a row that a largely non-English film has won SAG’s top prize. Last year, the cast of Parasite triumphed, becoming the first cast in a non-English film to do so.
The SAG Awards are a closely watched harbinger of the Oscars. Actors are the largest branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and SAG winners often line up with Oscar winners. Last year Parasite won Best Picture at the Oscars, and all of the individual SAG winners – Renée Zellweger, Brad Pitt, Laura Dern, Joaquin Phoenix – also won the Oscars.
Those awards this year went to an all-actor group of color, potentially paving the way for a historically diverse roster of Oscar winners: Chadwick Boseman, Best Male Actor for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Viola Davis, Best Actress for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Yuh-Jung Youn, Best Female Supporting Actress for Minari; and Daniel Kaluuya, Best Supporting Male Actor for Judas and the Black Messiah.
Of these, Davis’ victory was the most surprising in a category that often belonged to Carey Mulligan (promising young lady) or Frances McDormand (Nomadland). This is Davis’ fifth individual SAG award.
“Thank you, August, for leaving a legacy for actors of color that we can savor the rest of our lives on,” said Davis, referring to playwright August Wilson.
As throughout awards season, Best Male Actor once again belonged to Boseman for his final performance. Boseman, who died last August at the age of 43, had already set a record for most SAG film nominations – four – in a single year. He was also posthumously nominated for his supporting role in Da 5 Bloods and shared the ensemble nominations for the Spike Lee film and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
It was at the SAG Awards that Boseman gave one of his most memorable speeches. At the 2019 Guild Awards, Boseman spoke on behalf of the Black Panther cast when the film took home the top prize. “We all know what it’s like to be told there’s no room for you to be featured,” Boseman said at the time. “Yet you are young and talented and black.”
Oscar favorite Nomadland missed out on a nomination for Best Ensemble, possibly because its cast is made up largely of non-professional actors. Zhao’s film has already won highly predictive Producers Guild awards, as well as Golden Globes. The Trial of the Chicago 7, vying for Best Picture at the Oscars and four other awards, could be a challenge for the frontrunner.
In an interview following the pre-registration of the award for The Trial of the Chicago 7, Langella called the virtual experience much more civilized. “I’m in my bedroom slippers,” he said from New York’s Hudson Valley. “I don’t have any pants,” added co-star Michael Keaton.
Eddie Redmayne, who plays Tom Hayden in the film, credited Sorkin and casting director Francine Maisler for bringing together such a disparate group of actors – including Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Rylance, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Jeremy Strong – in a set.
“It was like a clash of different types of music, whether it was jazz, rock or classical – but it all came together under Aaron. He was almost the conductor, ”Redmayne said. “It was a day and a joyful day to see these great, different and varied actors fight.”
In the television categories, the sets of Schitt’s Creek (for comedy series) and The Crown (for drama series) added to their award streak. Other winners included Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit), Gillian Anderson (The Crown), Jason Sudeikis (Ted Lasso), Jason Bateman (Ozark) and Mark Ruffalo (I Know This Much Is True).
The awards are typically the most publicized event for the Screen Actors Guild, although the union’s showdown earlier this year with former President Donald Trump may have made headlines. After the guild prepared to kick Trump out (credits include The Apprentice, Home Alone 2) for his role in the Capitol Riot, Trump resigned from SAG-Aftra.
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