LOS ANGELES • Hidden Figures was the surprise best film ensemble winner at Sunday's Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards, a show overshadowed by politics as stars slammed United States President Donald Trump for restricting entry for travellers from seven Muslimmajority nations.
The true story of three black female mathematicians during the 1960s space race ousted awards frontrunners Manchester By The Sea and Moonlight to claim the trophy for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, the SAG equivalent of a best film.
"This story is about what happens when we put our differences aside and we come together," star Taraji P. Henson said. "Thank you for appreciating these women, they are hidden figures no more," she added.
Fences, based on August Wilson's award-winning stage play about blue-collar African-Americans, claimed two major acting awards.
With awards darling La La Land out of the running for the top SAG prize for best ensemble, the win put Hidden Figures firmly into the race for the Best Picture Oscar, the top accolade in the film industry.
Voted for by about 120,000 US actors, the televised SAG awards show often anoints top Academy Award winners as actors comprise the largest body within Oscar voters.
A surprised Denzel Washington won best actor for Fences, beating front-runners Casey Affleck for Manchester By The Sea and Ryan Gosling for La La Land. His co-star Viola Davis, who won best supporting actress, thanked the late playwright Wilson for honouring "the average man, who happened to be a man of colour".
The SAG awards honoured many actors of colour in a year when diversity in Hollywood has been in the spotlight.Politics took centre stage as many stars delivered fiery speeches to directly or indirectly criticise Mr Trump's ban on Muslim travellers.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who won best comedy TV actress for playing flawed fictional US President Selina Me- yer on HBO's political satire Veep, called the ban a "blemish". "Because I love this country, I am horrified by its blemishes and this immigrant ban is a blemish and it's un-American," said the daughter of an immigrant.
Mahershala Ali, who won best supporting actor for his role in independent drama Moonlight, noted that he is the Muslim son of a mother who is a Christian minister. "She didn't do backflips when I called her to tell her I converted 17 years ago, but I tell you now, we put things to the side," he said.
Emma Stone, winning best actress for musical romance La La Land, praised her fellow actors for "reflecting society".
"We're in a tricky time in the world and in our country, and things are very inexcusable and scary and need action," she said. "And I'm so grateful to be part of a group of people that care and want to reflect things back to society."
William H. Macy, who won best TV actor in a come-dy for his derelict character, Frank Gallagher, on Showtime's Shameless, took a different tactic. "I would like to thank President Trump - for making Frank Gallagher seem so normal," he said.
Lily Tomlin, who accepted the SAG lifetime achievement award from Dolly Parton, delivered a pointed speech that was equal parts hilarious, ridiculous and political.
"The Doomsday Clock has been moved to 21/2 minutes before midnight. And this award came just in the nick of time," she said, referring to the symbolic Doomsday Clock being moved last week 30 seconds closer to midnight on the strength of Mr Trump's comments about nuclear weapons and climate change.
Netflix dominated the top TV wins as women's prison show Orange Is The New Black won best comedy ensemble. The streaming leader's British royal family show The Crown also took the best actor and actress awards for a drama - for Claire Foy and John Lithgow - and its new 1980s sci-fi mystery series Stranger Things won best drama ensemble.
REUTERS, NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST