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2021 SAG Awards: 'Trial of the Chicago 7' takes top prize

"The Trial of the Chicago 7" cast members

"The Trial of the Chicago 7" cast members and AP film writer Jake Coyle, top center, chat over Zoom moments after winning for outstanding performance by a cast at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Credit: AP

The starry cast of Aaron Sorkin's 1960s courtroom drama "The Trial of the Chicago 7" took the top prize Sunday at a virtual, pretaped Screen Actors Guild Awards that saw Netflix snag Hollywood actors' highest honor for the first time.

The 27th SAG Awards, presented by the Hollywood actors' guild SAG-AFTRA, were a muted affair — and not just because the ceremony was virtual, without a red carpet and condensed to a prerecorded, Zoom-heavy, one-hour broadcast on TBS and TNT. The perceived Academy Awards front-runner — Chloé Zhao's "Nomadland" — wasn't nominated for best ensemble, making this year's postponed SAG Awards less of an Oscar preview than it is most years.

Still, the win for "The Trial of the Chicago 7" marked the first time a film from any streaming service won the guild's ensemble award. Written and directed by Sorkin, "The Trial of the Chicago 7" had been set for theatrical release by Paramount Pictures before the pandemic hit, leading to its sale to Netflix. The streamer is still after its first best-picture win at the Oscars.

Frank Langella, who plays the judge who presided over the 1969 prosecution of activists arrested during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, drew parallels between that era's unrest and today's while accepting the award on behalf of the cast.

" 'God give us leaders,' said the Rev. Martin Luther King before he was shot down in cold blood on this very date in 1968 — a profound injustice," said Langella, citing events leading up to those dramatized in "The Trial of the Chicago 7. "The Rev. King was right. We need leaders to guide us toward hating each other less."

The win came over two other Netflix releases — "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" and "Da 5 Bloods" — as well as Amazon's "One Night in Miami" and A24's "Minari." Had Lee Isaac Chung's Korean-American family drama "Minari" won, it would have been the second straight year a film largely not in English won SAG's top award. Last year, the cast of "Parasite" triumphed, becoming the first cast from a non-English language film to do so.

The SAG Awards are a closely watched Oscar harbinger. Actors make up the largest branch of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, and SAG winners often line up with Oscar ones. Last year, "Parasite" went on to win best picture at the Academy Awards, and all of the individual SAG winners — Renée Zellweger, Brad Pitt, Laura Dern, Joaquin Phoenix — won at the Oscars, too.

Those awards this year went to a group of entirely actors of color: Chadwick Boseman, best male actor for "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"; Viola Davis, best female actor for "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"; Yuh-Jung Youn, best female supporting actor for "Minari"; and Daniel Kaluuya, best male supporting actor for "Judas and the Black Messiah."

Of those, Davis' win was the most surprising in a category that has often belonged to Carey Mulligan ("Promising Young Woman") or Frances McDormand ("Nomadland"). It's Davis' fifth individual SAG award.

"Thank you, August, for leaving a legacy for actors of color that we can relish the rest of our lives," said Davis, referring to playwright August Wilson.

As it has throughout the awards season, best male actor again belonged to Boseman for his final performance. Boseman, who died in August at age 43, had already set a record for most SAG film nominations — four — in a single year. He was also posthumously nominated for his supporting role in "Da 5 Bloods" and shared in the ensemble nominations for both Spike Lee's film and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom."

The Academy Awards front-runner, "Nomadland" missed out on a best-ensemble nomination possibly because its cast is composed of largely nonprofessional actors.

Eddie Redmayne, who plays Tom Hayden in the film, credited Sorkin and casting director Francine Maisler for assembling such a disparate group of actors — including Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Rylance, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Jeremy Strong — into an ensemble.

"It was like a clash of different types of music, whether it was jazz or rock or classical — but all of that coming together under Aaron. He was the conductor, almost," said Redmayne.

In television categories, the ensembles of "Schitt's Creek" (for comedy series) and "The Crown" (for drama series) added to their string of awards. Other winners included Anya Taylor-Joy ("The Queen's Gambit"), Gillian Anderson ("The Crown"), Jason Sudeikis ("Ted Lasso"), Jason Bateman ("Ozark") and Mark Ruffalo ("I Know This Much Is True").

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