Scene from "Spotlight." Image from film poster
Scene from “Spotlight.” Image from film poster

“Spotlight,” the story of The Boston Globe’s investigation of sexual abuse by Catholic Priests, won the top prize of best ensemble cast at tonight’s 22nd Screen Actors Guild Awards, while Leonardo DiCaprio and Brie Larson were named best actor and actress, further paving their road to the Oscars.

The two-hour ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium, however, was particularly notable for the number of awards won by black performers — albeit mostly for television — in the midst of a growing debate over the lack of diversity at the Academy Awards and in Hollywood in general.

Idris Elba took home two awards: for best actor in a television movie or miniseries for BBC’s “Luther” and for best supporting actor for his turn as a West African mercenary leading a squadron of boy soldiers in Netflix’s “Beasts of No Nation.”

Queen Latifah was named best actress in a television movie or miniseries for HBO’s “Bessie,” while Uzo Aduba won best comedy actress for Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” and Viola Davis was named best drama actress for ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder.”

“Welcome to diverse TV,” Elba said midway through the broadcast while introducing a clip of “Beasts of No Nation.” The crowd roared with applause.

The entertainment industry has been under fire in recent weeks following the second year of an all-white slate of Oscar acting nominees — prompting the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to initiate changes in its membership and voting procedures.

While that issue was a clear undertone of the SAG Awards, “Spotlight” walked off with the ensemble cast award — the Oscar equivalent of best picture.

Accepting the award on behalf of the cast, Mark Ruffalo said the film shined a light on “one of the most horrific things that our culture has allowed to happen.”

“And this movie allows them (victims of sexual abuse by priests) to be seen in the world, in a world that has been blind to them,” he said. “It is such an honor to be standing in front of you on behalf of them and this amazing cast.”

DiCaprio, 41, claimed his first SAG Award in nine nominations for his role as a frontiersman who is left to die in “The Revenant.” He has already won a Golden Globe, and is easily the Oscar front-runner.

“When I was 15 years old I was lucky enough to get a film called ‘This Boy’s Life,’ and for about a year after that I watched as many films as I could, from Jimmy Cagney all the way to Robert De Niro, and it gave me such a tremendous respect for this craft, the craft of acting,” he said. “I was in awe of their performances and I was incredibly inspired. So for any young actors out there, I encourage you to watch the history of cinema, because as the history of cinema unfolds you realize we all stand on the shoulders of giants.”

Brie Larson, who also won a Golden Globe earlier this month, won her first SAG Award for her role as a mother held captive with her young son in “Room.” She hailed her young co-star, Jacob Tremblay, calling him “my inspiration.”

But the 26-year-old California native also gave thanks to the roomful of actors, recalling days when she was “feeling lost and alone and always worrying that I was deeply unlovable, and watching your movies — to all of my SAG members — made me feel less alone and made me feel like that was a safe place for me to explore my creativity, so thank you.”

Alicia Vikander was named best supporting actress for her work opposite Eddie Redmayne in “The Danish Girl.” It was her first win and first SAG nomination.     “I was remembering when I grew up, my mom’s an actress, so I used to go and watch her on stage at the theater, and loved to watch her rehearse, I loved to watch her perform,” the 27-year-old Swedish actress said. “… I saw a sudden thrill. I saw an excitement of a collaboration and exchange of camaraderie between actors by fellow actors. I learned then and I know still that acting is not in a bubble. That magic only happens between acting companions. And Eddie, you’re here tonight, I want to thank you … and everyone in this amazing cast that I was on this journey with.”

For Elba, his pair of wins were the first SAG honors of his career.

Elba, 43, also won the prize for best supporting film actor for his work as a West African mercenary leading a group of boy soldiers in the Netflix film “Beasts of No Nation.”

“We made a film about real people and real lives, you know, and to be, you know, awarded for it is very special … so thank you for giving this film some light,” Elba, 43, said while accepting the supporting-actor prize for “Beasts of No Nation.”

When Elba returned to the stage a short time later to accept the prize for “Luther,” he was nearly speechless.

“I really don’t know what to say. Two wins in one night, that’s incredible,” he said.

On the television side of the awards, “Downton Abbey” won its second straight — and third overall — SAG Award for outstanding cast in a drama series. Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” was named best ensemble cast in a comedy series — also for the second straight year. Laura Prepon, the former “That ’70s Show” actress who stars as Alex Vause on the Netflix series, spoke on behalf of the cast, and she said diversity was on full display among her co- stars.

“Look at this stage,” she said, gesturing to the cast behind her. “I mean this is what we talk about when we talk about diversity — different races, color, creed, sexual orientation, I mean, thank you so much.”

She also hailed the show’s cult-like following among fans.

“Our fans. Thank you so much. We wouldn’t be here without you,” Prepon said.

Aduba won her second consecutive SAG Award for best actress in a comedy series for her work as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren on “Orange is the New Black.”

Echoing the theme of diversity, she hailed the show and its cast, saying it “reflects and represents so many people.”

Jeffrey Tambor, 71, won his first career SAG Award for best actor in a comedy series for his role as cross-dressing family patriarch Maura Pfefferman in Amazon’s “Transparent.”

One of the presenters of the award was Tambor’s former “Arrested Development” co-star Jason Bateman, and Tambor poked fun at him while accepting the award and praising his “Transparent” colleagues.

“Thank you to that amazing cast … the most amazing cast I’ve ever — except for Jason — worked with,” Tambor said.

As he has while accepting other accolades — a Golden Globe and an Emmy – – for the role, Tambor heaped praise on the transgender community.

“I play Maura Pfefferman. She’s very entitled and she has a lot of money. And I would like to dedicate this award to the non-Maura Pfeffermans who don’t have a lot of cash for their operations, for their medicine, for their freedom,” he said.

Viola Davis, 50, won her second straight SAG Award for best actress in a drama series for ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder.”

“My job as an actor is to create a human being to the best of my ability. … It is my job and I do it to the best of my ability, and I get so much joy out of being an actor.”

She said the role as Annalise Keating “has been the joy, pleasure of my life.”

Kevin Spacey, 56, also won his second straight SAG Award for best actor in a drama for “House of Cards.”

“Apparently they say that if you’re in an elevator, you don’t know whether you’re going up or going down,” he said. “But right now it feels like I’m going up.”

— City News Service

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