SAG Awards: Slumdog and Milk–Oscar Foreshadowing?

harvey-milk-sean-penn-1208-lg.thumbnail.jpgSlumdog Millionaire–which won the Golden Globe and Producers’ Guild Award for best picture–scored again last night with the Screen Actors Guild’s award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.

Shot in Mumbai, the film tells the story of a teenage orphan from the slums who becomes the biggest winner ever on India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and through his struggles, highlights class differences, social inequalities and the ability of the individual to overcome horrible circumstances.

Sean Penn was awarded the Actor for Outstanding Performance by a Lead Actor-Male for his portrayal of the slain civil rights leader Harvey Milk in Milk.  Penn began his speech with little levity before getting serious:

Thank you and good evening, comrades. That was for (Bill) O’Reilly. As actors, we don’t play gay, straight. We don’t play any of these kinds of people. We play human beings, and this movie is something that we’re, all of us involved, are so proud of. This is a story about equal rights for all human beings.

With such endorsements (and the extra bonus of Carrie Fisher and Colleen Camp’s Milk party Friday night which had more than a few Academy members as guests), it looks like a straight shot for Slumdog and Penn, and also for Heath Ledger who earlier captured the posthumous Golden Globe and last night the SAG award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role.  As with  the Golden Globes, Kate Winslett won Female Actor in a Supporting Role for her part of an  incredibly sexy, erudite and literate concentration camp guard in The Reader.

During the ceremony there was just one reference to the issues surrounding a possible SAG strike. In her acceptance speech for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series, after thanking her daughter, Tina Fey made reference to a point in the contract dispute, payment for work shown online:

Someday she’ll be old enough to watch 30 Rock reruns on the Internet and understand where Mom was going at 6:30 a.m. every day, for all that time. And she’ll look at me and say: ‘What do you mean you don’t get residuals for this?’

However the guild’s behind the scenes struggle between pro-and anti-strike forces cast an ugly shadow during the voting period when an anonymous e-mail was forwarded around by (pro-strike) board member Frances Fisher suggesting that guild voters ought to purposefully vote against nominated actors who publicly supported anti-strike authorization movement–in order to punish them!

Those named to be treated thusly included Michael C. Hall, Tony Shaloub, Josh Brolin, Susan Sarandon, Sally Field, Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacey and Steve Carell. Frances Fisher apologized, after being called on the carpet by past guild president Richard Masur who rightly likened the offensive proposal to a blacklist.

Tony Shaloub, who was bested by fellow anti-strike supporter Alec Baldwin in their incredibly long titled category admitted he was “stung, initially”  by the email and offered up this ideal on the red carpet:

It just seemed like, especially in terms of the awards, it shouldn’t be about politics at all.

Well, maybe not internal SAG politics, but from Milk and Slumdog‘s continuing winning streaks, the awards seem to be about progressive change and uplifting values, the best outcome of politics.

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Lisa Derrick

Lisa Derrick

Los Angeles native, attended UC Berkeley and Loyola Marymount University before punk rock and logophilia overtook her life. Worked as nightclub columnist, pop culture journalist and was a Hollywood housewife before writing for and editing Sacred History Magazine. Then she discovered the thrill of politics. She also appears frequently on the Dave Fanning Show, one of Ireland's most popular radio broadcasts.