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From SAG Awards to Sundance, diversity makes a comeback

2/5/2016, 12:54 p.m.
In a flurry of wins at the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the Sundance Film Festival, diversity made a comeback. ...
Ms Aduba, Ms Davis, Mr. Elba

By Jake Coyle , Associated Press

In a flurry of wins at the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the Sundance Film Festival, diversity made a comeback.

Over just a few hours last Saturday, the SAG Awards and Sundance showered their honors on a parade of performers and films that presented a stark contrast to the crisis that has plagued the Oscars. Shortly after Queen Latifah, Uzo Aduba, Viola Davis and Idris Elba (twice), received awards from the screen actors, writer-director Nate Parker’s Sundance sensation “The Birth of a Nation,” a drama about Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, swept the festival’s awards.

The two ceremonies, in Los Angeles and Park City, Utah, offered a night of reprieve from weeks of rancor over systemic inequality in the movie business and a second straight year of all-white Academy Award acting nominees.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to diverse TV,” said Mr. Elba in his third trip on stage as a presenter at the SAG Awards. His first two were to accept awards for his supporting performance in the Netflix child soldier drama, “Beasts of No Nation,” and for his lead performance in the BBC miniseries “Luther.”

Soon thereafter, at Sundance, Mr. Parker took the festival’s grand jury prize and its audience award.

“Thank you, Sundance, for creating a platform for us to grow, in spite of what the rest of Hollywood is doing,” said Mr. Parker, whose directorial debut sold for a record sum to Fox Searchlight Pictures.

The SAG Awards top honor, best ensemble in a film, went to the newspaper drama “Spotlight,” which came into Saturday’s ceremony badly in need of some momentum. The ensemble award had seemingly come down to “Spotlight” or Adam McKay’s high finance tale “The Big Short,” which last week took the Producers Guild’s top award. The win assures a competitive and unpredictable Oscars finale, with “The Martian,” “The Revenant” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” also in the mix.

Mr. Elba made no direct reference to the uproar that has swept through Hollywood in the last two weeks, which might have been 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.

Accepting the most outstanding ensemble award in a comedy series for Netflix’s “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 Ms. Prepon. “This is what we talk about when we talk about diversity.”

SAG winners for individual performances the last three years have corresponded with eventual Academy Award winners. Thus Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Revenant”), Brie Larson (“Room”) and Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl”) all cemented their status as Oscar favorites. Each won, as expected.

But supporting actor will differ this year. The category’s perceived favorite is Sylvester Stallone for the Rocky sequel “Creed.” Stallone, though, wasn’t nominated by the screen actors.

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.