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SAG Awards: Actors Spotlight Diversity and ‘Spotlight’

Tom McCarthy’s journalism drama wins a big award when it desperately needs one, keeping the Oscar race wide open


“Spotlight” won a crucial victory at Saturday’s Screen Actors Guild Awards in its fight to remain a viable candidate for the Best Picture Oscar.

By winning at the SAG Awards for an ensemble cast, the Tom McCarthy film about the reporters who documented molestation and cover-up in the Catholic Church didn’t become an Oscar favorite by any means — but it kept itself in the thick of a fiercely competitive race after winning most of the year’s critics’ awards but falling short in guild contests before SAG.

“Spotlight” lost last weekend’s all-important Producers Guild Award to “The Big Short,” making Adam McKay‘s seriocomic look at the financial crisis of 2008 as close to a frontrunner as this wide-open awards season has. “The Big Short” was considered the primary rival to “Spotlight” at SAG, and a win with the actors would have given it the strong aura of a winner.

Instead, SAG served as an important reminder that “Spotlight,” which is unlikely to win any individual acting awards, does have the support of actors, who make up the single largest branch of the Academy.

And it means that a wildly uncertain race could well remain that way right up to Oscar night.

The SAG ensemble award is not as reliable an Oscar predictor as the Producers Guild or Directors Guild Awards, with only 10 of the 20 ensemble winners going on to take the Best Picture Oscar. Last year’s winner, “Birdman,” was one of those 10, as were “Argo,” “The King’s Speech,” “Slumdog Millionaire” and “No Country for Old Men.” But other recent SAG winners include “American Hustle,” “The Help” and “Inglourious Basterds,” which lost to “12 Years a Slave,” “The Artist” and “The Hurt Locker,” respectively.

When it comes to the individual film races, all four strengthened the hopes of Oscar nominees, even if one of those nominees wasn’t even up for a SAG Award.

Best actor and actress candidates Leonardo DiCaprio and Brie Larson went into the evening as favorites for their grueling and intense performances in “The Revenant” and “Room,” respectively, and they came out with wins that only reinforced the sense that they have smooth paths to Oscar night.

The supporting film awards, meanwhile, gave a boost to two more contenders. Alicia Vikander‘s win for supporting actress made her a little more of a favorite in what seemed to be the tightest of the acting races. And while the supporting actor category was missing the Oscar favorite, Sylvester Stallone for “Creed,” the SAG voters’ choice of non-Oscar nominee Idris Elba sent a message about diversity to the Academy without helping any of Stallone’s competitors; it was the ideal outcome for Team Rocky.

And it wasn’t just the film awards that sent that message; at the halfway point of the two-hour show, four of the six individual awards had gone to people of color, along with another award to the racially diverse cast of “Orange Is the New Black.” Of course, Viola Davis and Elba (who also won for “Luther”) had been honored by SAG voters in the past, and the award for drama-series ensemble went once again to the whitest possible show, “Downton Abbey.”

But that’s par for the course at SAG, which casts a wide net and has its own favorites. With more than 115,000 voters after merging with AFTRA, you could say it’s a diverse group – big enough to cast a spotlight on a few areas the Academy might have overlooked, and also to cast a spotlight on “Spotlight” at a time when the film needed it most.

With four weeks to go before the Oscars, it’s going to be a bumpy and fascinating ride.