2021 SAG Awards

Daniel Kaluuya in Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

Daniel Kaluuya had a pretty good weekend. Hosting Saturday Night Live for the first time, he drew a sizable audience and strong reviews. Hannah Giorgis notes in the Atlantic that Kaluuya “showcased a remarkable range that buoyed the entire show,” and at the A.V. Club, Dennis Perkins credits his “undeniable charisma and acting prowess” with “enlivening sketches” that “get points more for outside-the-box thinking and ambition than actual execution.” The following night, he won a Screen Actors Guild Award for his supporting turn as Black Panther activist Fred Hampton in Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah.

He actually won the award—one of dozens the thirty-two-year-old actor has collected since breaking through in Jordan Peele’s Get Out in 2017—about a week ago, when the SAG’s prizes were presented via Zoom. The winners, though, weren’t officially announced until Sunday night during a televised hour-long cut of the ceremony that Variety’s Daniel D’Addario praises as “elegantly produced.” The SAG’s top award goes to an entire cast, and it’s gone to a big one this year, the eleven actors crowding the courtroom in Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7. Schitt’s Creek and The Crown dominated the television categories, but the big story coming out of Sunday evening is that, for the first time in the history of the awards, all four individual film acting prizes have gone to people of color.

Reviewing Judas and the Black Messiah in February, New York Times critic A. O. Scott wrote that, as Fred Hampton, Kaluuya “takes up the burden of incarnating and exorcising both the monster of Hoover’s imagination and a martyr of the Black Power movement. He more than meets the challenge of uncovering the striving, doubting, thinking person underneath those myths.” Early last month, when the NYT’s Reggie Ugwu called up Kaluuya for a profile, he found that the actor’s “working-class London accent is initially jarring. It’s befuddling to imagine the British-born son of a Ugandan immigrant beneath the layered incarnation of Hampton that appears in Judas.

Yuh-Jung Youn, who has won the award for best female performance in a supporting role for her turn as a grandmother in Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari, broke through half a century ago in Kim Ki-young’s Woman of Fire (1971). A major star of film and television in Korea who has worked with Im Sangsoo and Hong Sangsoo, Youn “steals the spotlight” in Minari, writes Kristen Yoonsoo Kim in the Nation, adding that “even as she leans toward caricature, her Soonja brings much-needed humor and vitality to a drama that could otherwise sink easily into the dour.”

The awards for best female and male leads go to the stars of George C. Wolfe’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman. Playing the blues singer as August Wilson imagined her in his 1982 play, Davis “relishes the opportunity to be difficult, self-assured, and dominant,” writes Odie Henderson at RogerEbert.com. “Even in the quieter moments, her Ma Rainey fills up the room.” As trumpeter Levee Green, Boseman “leaves us with a dancer’s grace and a great tragedian’s pathos,” writes David Cote at 4Columns: “Levee the jazz dreamer, blasphemous trickster, and chaos agent who nevertheless finds himself fortune’s fool when the white power structure asserts itself.”

This long and strange awards season now limps onward toward the presentation of the Oscars on April 25. “All four individual SAG Awards film winners have gone on to take the Oscar in two of the last three years,” notes Glenn Whipp in the Los Angeles Times. Whether or not that happens again, he’s pretty sure that there’s only one shoe-in here. This will be “the last chance to honor Boseman, not just for this excellent performance but also for a career marked by warmth, generosity and purpose. There’s no way the Academy passes up that opportunity.”

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