Black Thespian Excellence Shines at SAG Awards

By Sameer Rao Jan 30, 2017

Black actors and actresses won big in the film acting categories at last night’s (January 29) Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards ceremony.

The cast of historical drama "Hidden Figures" won the "Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture" award. Star Taraji P. Henson made sure to say the names of the film’s three Black female protagonists—NASA mathematicians Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson (respectively portrayed by Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe)—during her acceptance speech. "Without them, we would not know how to reach the stars," Henson said.

Actor Mahershala Ali took home the "Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role" award for his performance as Juan in the coming-of-age drama "Moonlight." 

"What I’ve learned from working on ‘Moonlight’ is [that] we see what happens when you persecute people—they fold into themselves," Ali said, in reference to the film’s protagonist Chiron, a Black child-turned-man who wrestles with his sexuality, during his acceptance speech. "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," he continued while holding back tears. "Taking that opportunity to uplift him, and tell him that he mattered and that he was okay, and accept him…I hope that we do a better job of that." 

Viola Davis won in the Black women-dominated "Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role" category for her portrayal of Rose Maxson in "Fences." Davis recognized "Fences" playwright and screenwriter August Wilson in her speech. "What August did so beautifully is he honored the average man, who happened to be a man of color," she said. "We deserve to be in the canon, the center of any narrative that’s written out there."

Davis’ co-star and "Fences" director Denzel Washington won his first SAG award, in the "Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role" category, for portraying tortured patriarch Troy Maxson. He thanked Davis, his other "Fences" co-stars and Wilson in his remarks.

The only winners of color in the TV categories were the Black and Latinx stars of "Orange is the New Black" who collectively won the "Oustanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series" award. "We’d like to say that we stand up here representing a diverse group of people, representing generations of families who have sought a better life here from places like Nigeria, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Ireland," said actress Taylor Schilling ("The Lucky One") with encouragement from her co-stars on stage. "And we know that it’s going to be up to us and all of you probably, too, to keep telling stories that show what unites us is stronger than the forces that seek to divide us."

Read the full list of last night’s winners here.