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The 71st annual Directors Guild of America Awards were handed out Saturday night in Los Angeles, with Alfonso Cuaron taking home the feature directing prize for Roma. A key contender, A Star is Born’s Bradley Cooper, was shut out in that category and in the first-time feature slot, where the honor went to Bo Burnham for Eight Grade.
“The language of cinema, like the universe, is constantly expanding,” said Cuaron, whose keenly observed Netflix feature depicts the life of a Mexico City domestic worker in 1970-71. “The true cinema ignores walls, both real and imagined. More than 11 million domestic workers are migrants. When we vilify them, call them criminals and rapists, we minimize ourselves.”
The award for best documentary went to Tim Wardle for Three Identical Strangers, with the honor presented by high-wattage labor and civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, a co-founder with Cesar Chavez of the United Farmworkers. Her presence was in keeping with the tone of the evening, during which the politics of inclusion, #MeToo and unionism were mentioned by almost every presenter and award recipient. Indeed, four out of the five best director nominees had crafted films on those themes: Cuaron, Peter Farrelly (Green Book), Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman) and Adam McKay (Vice).
Aisha Tyler hosted the gala, which took place at the Hollywood & Highland Center's Ray Dolby Ballroom. “Criminal Minds and Friends,” said DGA president Thomas Schlamme, naming two of the actress’ credits. “That’s not just the name for the Trump administration. She was also on The Pretender, which I’m pretty sure is Trump’s Secret Service code name.”
Although the best feature nominees were all male (but not all white), the presenters were diverse, as is the guild’s board of directors. DGA statistics show increased diversity in television directing, but less so on the feature side.
“How’s it been since I’ve been gone?” asked DGA past president Paris Barclay, the first African-American to occupy the post. “I know, it’s hard to let go of those black presidents, isn’t it?” he added in a sly double entendre alluding to previous presenters’ comments about the current occupant of the White House.
“Camaraderie is the DGA’s foundation, and we have fought for over eight decades to make sure you, our members, have strong creative and economic rights, so you have the freedom to carry out your vision,” said Schlamme. “Continuously looking ahead is something our guild has made a priority since our inception. That forward-thinking … developed the exact right conditions for our members to make the world’s best ?lm and television, and make a living for themselves and their families while doing it.”
On the television side, Adam McKay (also nominated for his feature Vice) won for the dramatic series Succession and actor-director Bill Hader for his comedy series Barry. Both air on HBO. Rival Showtime found something to smile about as well, with Ben Stiller notching a win in the movies for television and limited series category for the pay service’s Escape at Dannemora. Jack Jameson won best children’s program for Sesame Street (HBO). (“Bloody hell, thank you,” said the startled Brit as he accepted his award.)
Another happy network was FX, which won a diversity award. The cabler increased the diversity of its television directors from 12 percent to 53 percent in just eight months, spurred on by a 2015 article by journalist Maureen Ryan, whom FX president John Landgraf repeatedly thanked.
“Facts don’t lie,” Landgraf emphasized, in yet another allusion to the current political climate in Washington.
On a more somber note, Schlamme noted that “the world is a divided and often dangerous place” and added, “I want to take this moment to send out to one of our members, Jussie Smollett, our deepest thoughts for a speedy recovery as well as all of the men and women who have suffered from the senseless violence of hate crimes. But even with this chaos, I remain optimistic.”
Writer-director Spike Jonze, whose work spans features, television and other media, won the award for best commercials director. Also during the ceremony, Ron Howard presented the Frank Capra Achievement Award to unit production manager Kathleen McGill, while associate director Mimi (Marian) Deaton received the Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award.
Don Mischer, a master of directing live TV, was named the recipient of the DGA’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Achievement in Television Direction, one of the guild's highest honors.
Meanwhile, presenters also included past winners Guillermo del Toro and Jordan Peele, along with Yalitza Aparicio, Christian Bale, Linda Cardellini, Marina de Tavira, Tony Hale, Laura Harrier, Dennis Haysbert, Brian Tyree Henry, Quincy Jones, Stan Lathan, Viggo Mortensen, Sarah Paulson, Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Octavia Spencer, John David Washington and Constance Wu.
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