‘Birdman’ Takes Big Prize, Diversity Big Moment at SAG Awards

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LOS ANGELES, Calif. — “Birdman” won the big prize — outstanding motion picture cast — at the 21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, but it was talk about heritage and diversity that captured the evening.

On the TV side, the winners included “Orange Is the New Black” — a series about a women’s prison, created by a woman, featuring a cast that includes a transgender performer — and black actresses Viola Davis and Uzo Aduba.

And the movie winners included Patricia Arquette, who won for a performance in “Boyhood” that she filmed over 12 years — and wasn’t afraid to show it.

Arquette comes from a long line of performers. Her siblings, including Rosanna Arquette and David Arquette, are actors. So was her father and grandfather. She paid tribute to all of them in her speech.

“I’m a fourth-generation actor,” she said, visibly overwrought, adding that her family has been performing for more than a century.

But it was the wins by Davis, Aduba and “Orange” that caught the attention of social media, which erupted 10 days ago when the Oscar nominations put forth a very un-diverse crowd.

Davis’ speech, in particular, was particularly moving.

After beginning with an observation about how she tells her daughter stories, she paid tribute to the producers who thought of her for their “How to Get Away with Murder” story.

“I’d like to thank Paul Lee, Shonda Rhimes, Betsy Beers and Pete Nowalk for thinking that a sexualized, messy, mysterious woman could be a 49-year-old dark-skinned African-American woman who looks like me,” she said.

Several tweeters highlighted her words and their significance.

In general, however, the SAG Awards were a relatively quiet and brisk affair. (Yes, it can happen, even for Hollywood awards shows.)

The film awards generally went as expected, with Arquette, J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”), Julianne Moore (“Still Alice”), Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”) and “Birdman” taking home the trophies. Only Redmayne was a mild surprise, given that “Birdman’s” Michael Keaton has been considered the leader in the best actor race by a number of handicappers.

The actors’ branch is the largest bloc of Oscar voters, so the SAG Awards are closely watched for indicators about which way the Academy Award wind is blowing.

Still, the SAG Awards had their moments. There were Davis’ and Aduba’s emotional speeches, of course. And there were also a few laughs.

Frances McDormand got some chuckles for turning her speech into a cheeky bit of promotion for her film, “Olive Kitteredge” (“You can stream it — I don’t know how. You can watch it on an intercontinental flight, I’ve been told. You can get the DVDs on February 9, give it to someone as a Valentine’s Day present!” she said) and the witty Carrie Fisher got off a couple jokes while introducing her mother, Debbie Reynolds, who won a lifetime achievement award.

“Birdman” took home only one prize in the end, but it was the biggest one of the night. It also won at the Producers’ Guild Awards Saturday.

How that will fly at the Oscars, however, is anyone’s guess.