Actors’ backing boosts Leo’s Oscar hopes as Elba wins 2 SAG Awards

Rachel McAdams, from Spotlight, which won SAG's Best Film eqivalent
Spotlight actress Rachel McAdams, Photo © 2016 Steve McCambridge

The Screen Actors Guild has given out its annual film and TV awards at a ceremony in Los Angeles that is seen as one of the better indicators of who might go on to win Oscars, as such a large proportion of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are actors.

Spotlight – the drama about how journalists at the Boston Globe revealed how the Catholic Church had covered up years of abuse by its priests – won the trophy for the Outstanding Performance by Cast in a Motion PIcture – SAG’s equivalent of the Best Picture Oscar.

But despite all-round strong performances, Spotlight didn’t pick up any individual awards, with Leonardo DiCaprio boosting his Academy Award hopes by taking the prize – known as the Actor – for best male lead for The Revenant, beating Bryan Cranston, Eddie Redmayne and Michael Fassbender, three of the four challengers he’ll face on Oscars night.

The Best Supporting Actor category won’t translate so well to the Oscars, as the winner, Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation, was one of the black actors controversially overlooked by the Academy.

Leonardo DiCaprio wins for The Revenant Photo © 2016 Steve McCambridge
Leonardo DiCaprio wins for The Revenant, Photo © 2016 Steve McCambridge

He was one of several black performers recognised at what many commentators have observed was a ceremony at which “diversity reigned,” which is a bit of an unfair comparison, since the rest of the black winners were in TV categories, not considered by the Academy.

The other film winners were Brie Larson for Room in the lead actress  categories, while Alicia VIkander was named the best supporting actress for her role in The Danish Girl, both of whom were already regarded as being in a strong position to win the most coveted prize in their respective categories, this Awards Season.

Kevin Spacey won for TV's House of Cards, Photo © 2016 Steve McCambridge
Kevin Spacey won for TV’s House of Cards, Photo © 2016 Steve McCambridge

In the TV categories, Downton Abbey was named the best ensemble cast in a drama, while Orange is the New Black was named the Best Comedy Ensemble cast, its star Uzo Aduba picked up the award for the Best Actress in a Comedy. The Best Actress in a drama went to another black actress, Viola Davis – Oscar-nominated for The Help – for How to Get Away with Murder. Idris Elba returned to collect another prize, as the Best Actor in a TV Movie or Miniseries for Luther, while Queen Latifah won the female equivalent for Bessie. Diversity wasn’t limited to race, with Jeffrey Tambor being hailed as the Best Actor in a comedy for Transparent, in which his character is transgender. Kevin Spacey won the Best Actor in a Drama honours, for House of Cards.

SAG also hand out awards for stunts, with Mad Max: Fury Road being acknowledged as the best stunt team in film, while Game of Thrones took the correspondent TV award.

With the Oscars just four weeks away, and the row about black nominees far from assuaged, it seems that members of the main acting union have made a conscious effort to show the Academy and Hollywood more generally that they welcome diversity – by giving four of their six individual acting awards to black stars and a fifth to an actor who plays a transgender character.

But Idris Elba’s film recognition is likely to be used to keep the past two years of all-white acting nomination lists in the spotlight.