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Not all 160,000 or so members of the actors union SAG-AFTRA are also members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but the vast majority of the 1,302 actors who are voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are members of SAG-AFTRA. That being the case, Sunday night’s SAG Awards ceremony bodes extremely well for the Oscar night prospects of Everything Everywhere All at Once, which was already looking like the prohibitive Oscar frontrunner on the heels of claiming the top prizes of the Critics Choice Association, the Directors Guild of America and the Producers Guild of America, among others.
Indeed, at the SAG Awards, four of the five film-specific awards were won by members of the Everything Everywhere cast: not just the two that were seen as slam-dunks going into the night — best ensemble and best supporting actor for Ke Huy Quan (making him the first Asian actor to ever win a SAG Award for a performance in a film by an individual, as opposed to an ensemble) — but also two that were not: best actress for Michelle Yeoh, beating out Tár’s Cate Blanchett in what was always thought to be a close contest, and best supporting actress for Jamie Lee Curtis, a stunning upset over presumed favorite Angela Bassett of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (who had previously won Critics Choice and Golden Globe awards, which were voted upon by organizations of journalists).
Last year, all four individual SAG Award winners repeated at the Oscars, and the winner of the best ensemble SAG Award — which is not explicitly a “best picture” honor, but is often treated as one — went on to win best picture. But there is usually at least one discrepancy between the winners. And when the SAG Awards and the Oscars do differ, it is, it must be acknowledged, often the result of the members of SAG-AFTRA, a more diverse group, opting for a person of color, only to have the members of the Academy then select someone else.
Recent examples include the SAG Award going to Chadwick Boseman for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom but the Oscar going to Anthony Hopkins for The Father, the SAG Award going to Viola Davis for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom but the Oscar going to Frances McDormand for Nomadland, the SAG Award going to Denzel Washington for Fences but the Oscar going to Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea, the SAG Award going to Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation but the Oscar going to Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies and the SAG Award going to Viola Davis for The Help but the Oscar going to Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady.
Given that history, it might be premature to assume that Yeoh will repeat at the Oscars, and it might be extra significant that Curtis managed to outpace Bassett (not to mention Curtis’ own co-star, Stephanie Hsu).
An early hint of enthusiasm for Curtis came during the opening of the show — the first major award show ever to be streamed, this year on Netflix’s YouTube channel, and next year on the streamer’s own platform — when the camera arrived at her for her “…and I’m an actor” story, and she received massive applause before she could even open her mouth.
In the one film category in which Everything Everywhere was not represented, best actor, it was certainly notable that Fraser, the veteran, held off Elvis breakout Austin Butler, in what appears to be a neck-and-neck race between the two to the Oscar. Butler had defeated Fraser to win the best drama actor Golden Globe, but Fraser beat Butler to win the Critics Choice and now SAG awards. This category, to me, still feels up for grabs, given that the Academy clearly embraced Elvis (eight nominations, including best picture) considerably more than The Whale (three nominations, best picture not among them).
All of the winners, in their acceptance speeches, hit key “talking points” that they would like on Academy members minds when the final round of Oscar voting commences Wednesday. Fraser reminded people that he has only recently returned from the wilderness (“Believe me, if you just stay in there, you’ll get where you want to go”) and referred to his part in The Whale as “the role of my life” (read: this is probably the best shot I will ever have). Yeoh, who would be the first Asian-identifying actress to ever win the best actress Oscar, noted the historic nature of her candidacy (“This is not just for me, this is for every little girl who looks like me…thank you for giving me a seat at the table”), as did Quan, who also reminded people of the feel-good story of his return to acting after two decades away from the profession (“To all those at home who are watching, who are struggling and waiting to be seen, please keep on going, because the spotlight will one day find you”). And Curtis, after the standing ovation for her win died down, stared down the elephant in the room and charmed the crowd: “I know you look at me and think, ‘Well, nepo baby, that’s why she’s there,’ and I totally get it. But the truth of the matter is I’m 64 years old and this just amazing.”
Special congratulations to A24, which swept all five film awards, a truly remarkable achievement.
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