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SAG Awards, Sundance Celebrate Diversity

In a flurry of wins at the Screen Actors Guild Awards (SAG Awards) and the Sundance Film Festival, diversity made a comeback.

Over just a few hours Saturday night, the SAG Awards and Sundance showered their honors on a parade of performers and films that presented a stark contrast to the crisis that has plagued the Oscars. Shortly after the screen actors handed out awards to Queen Latifah, Uzo Aduba, Viola Davis and Idris Elba (twice), Nate Parker’s Sundance sensation “The Birth of a Nation,” a drama about Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, swept the festival’s awards.

The two ceremonies, in Los Angeles and Park City, Utah, offered a night of reprieve from weeks of rancor over systemic inequality in the movie business and a second straight year of all-white Academy Award acting nominees.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to diverse TV,” said Elba in his third trip on stage as a presenter at the SAGAwards. His first two were to accept awards for his supporting performance in the Netflix child soldier drama “Beasts of No Nation” and for his lead performance in the BBC miniseries “Luther.”

Soon thereafter, at Sundance, Parker took the festival’s grand jury prize and its audience award.

“Thank you, Sundance, for creating a platform for us to grow, in spite of what the rest of Hollywood is doing,” said Parker, whose directorial debut sold for a record sum to Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Meanwhile, Elba a two-time winner at SAG, made no direct reference to the uproar that has swept through Hollywood in the last two weeks, which might have been less severe had he been nominated by the Academy Awards, as many expected. But it was on the minds and tongues of seemingly everyone in Los Angeles’ Shrine Auditorium.

Accepting the most outstanding ensemble award in a comedy series for Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black,” co-star Laura Prepon gestured to the cast of the prison comedy standing behind her.

“Look at this stage,” said Prepon. “This is what we talk about when we talk about diversity.”

Actors make up the largest branch of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, which is why the SAGAwards are a closely watched harbinger of the Oscars. But the Screen Actors Guild is massive by comparison: some 160,000 members to the academy’s 6,000-plus. Voting for the SAG Awards, which concluded Friday, also overlapped with the widespread debate over the industry’s inclusiveness that followed Academy Awards nominations.

Latifah gave one of the evening’s most stirring speeches while accepting the award for most outstanding female performance in a TV movie or miniseries for HBO’s Bessie Smith tale “Bessie.”

“I hope that anyone out there who does not come in the package that people say you should, keep fighting for it,” said Latifah. Backstage, Latifah added: “Hopefully our business will continue to supply the demand that people are asking for. The people want it. Give it to the people.”

Aduba, accepting her second straight SAG Award for best actress in a comedy in “Orange Is the New Black,” praised creator Jenji Kohan for making “a show that reflects and represents so many people.”

Davis, who in September became the first African American to win best actress at the Emmys, won again for her performance in “How to Get Away With Murder.” She reminded that “diversity is not a trending topic.”

“All of the actors of color I know don’t place any limitations on themselves,” said Davis. “So regardless what is going on with the academy, what is going on with Hollywood, they will find a way to be excellent. We always have and we always will.”