If anyone thought that the winners and presenters at Sunday night’s 23rd Screen Actors Guild Awards would avoid addressing the protests happening at airports around the nation, they were wrong.
The show, telecast on TNT and TBS live from the Shrine Exposition Center in Los Angeles, was political from the opening moments, with a series of nominated actors in the audience talking about what it means to be an actor, which includes, said “Scandal’s” Kerry Washington, expressing political opinions.
Although the show normally eschews a formal host, Ashton Kutcher did welcome viewers to the broadcast and “everyone in airports that belong in my America. We love you and we welcome you.”
The night’s first winner, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, addressed the issue head-on in her acceptance speech for performance by a female actor in a comedy series for her role on “Veep.”
“I am the daughter of an immigrant. My father fled religious persecution in Nazi-occupied France. And I’m an American patriot. And I love this country. And because I love this country, I am horrified by its blemishes. And this immigrant ban is a blemish and it’s un-American,” she said, before reading the Writers Guild of America statement on the issue.
The trend continued as the show progressed. “Moonlight” actor Mahershala Ali spoke eloquently of his character Juan, during his acceptance of the award for performance by a male actor in a supporting role in film. “I think what I’ve learned from working on ‘Moonlight’ is we see what happens when you persecute people. They fold into themselves and what I was so grateful about in having the opportunity to play Juan was playing a gentleman who saw a young man folding into himself as a result of the persecution of his community. Taking the opportunity to uplift him and to tell him he mattered, that he was OK and accept him. I hope that we do a better job of that,” he said.
Sarah Paulson made a plea that anyone with money to spare to please donate to the ACLU “to protect the rights of people across the country” as she accepted the trophy for performance by a female actor in a television movie or miniseries for “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.”
Dolly Parton, on hand to present her “9 to 5” co-star Lily Tomlin with the SAG Lifetime Achievement Award, went a much lighter route. After receiving a standing ovation from the room, the country legend joked that she had trouble getting into the show. “I almost didn’t get in. Seriously, I didn’t. They were holding me backstage. They kept wanting to see my IDs. Well, I think it was IDs, maybe it was just double Ds. I’m glad to get that off my chest,” she quipped.
Although Tomlin has famously been an activist throughout her 50-year career, her lengthy and frequently hilarious acceptance speech only partially touched on political issues.
She riffed on various topics including her misspent youth and nuggets of wisdom for young actors. Among those nuggets: ”Don’t leave the house when you’re drunk,” she said to laughter from the audience. “And if you’re already out there, then you must learn to tell you when you’ve had too much to drink. Listen to your friends. When they stop talking to you and start talking about you— saying things like “Did she have a purse?” And don’t be anxious about missing an opportunity. Behind every failure is an opportunity someone wishes they had missed.”
Near the end of her speech she did talk about contemplating what signs she might need to make for whatever marches may come next. “We could all go out and really change things,” she said, concluding with, “As long as I don’t have to audition I just may be back.”
Many of the winners, of course, were profusely grateful to their fellow actors and creative collaborators in film and television. Claire Foy took time to thank the casting directors of the Netflix royal drama “The Crown” while accepting the trophy for performance by a female actor in a drama series. Viola Davis spoke at length about playwright/screenwriter August Wilson and his capacity to encapsulate lives after winning performance by a female actor in a supporting role in film. John Lithgow, who won for performance by a male actor in a drama series, also graciously made sure to acknowledge his fellow nominees.
The “In Memoriam” reel was predictably tough with many familiar faces gone, some far too soon, and ended with Carrie Fisher intoning “May the Force be with you.”
David Harbour was the night’s most impassioned speaker, however, as he accepted the award for performance by an ensemble in a drama series for the cast of Netflix’s retro series “Stranger Things.” As Winona Ryder and his fellow cast mates cheered him on, Harbour talked about how he and his fellow thespians “believe great acting can change the world” and that their win was a call to arms to “go deeper and through our art to battle against fear, self-centeredness and exclusivity of our predominantly narcissistic culture and through our craft cultivate a more empathetic and understanding society by revealing intimate truths that serve as a forceful reminder to folks that when they feel broken and afraid and tired, they are not alone.”
The night concluded on a note of uplift via Taraji P. Henson.
“This story is of unity. This story is about what happens when we put our differences aside and we come together as a human race. We win,” the actress said while accepting the night’s final award for performance by a cast in a motion picture for “Hidden Figures.” “Love wins, every time.”