For an awards ceremony that isn’t the Oscars or the Golden Globes, there was plenty of attention heading into the 24th Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday.
Call it a stunt or a bold statement, but for the first time ever, the SAGs featured a female-only lineup of award presenters, and its first host, Kristen Bell. And it arrived less than 24 hours after the Women’s March that President Trump tried his best to say was in his honor. (It wasn’t.)
The unprecedented move was meant to further the conversation about sexual harassment in Hollywood following the #MeToo movement, the fall of accused predators like Harvey Weinstein and the Time’s Up campaign, which was launched this month by many of the same women at the Shrine Auditorium on Sunday.
The surprise, however, was not Bell’s competent performance, or that women carried an entire show or that James Franco attended after misconduct allegations were recently launched against him.
It was that ageism, another byproduct of the industry’s endemic misogyny, appeared to crumble as each new category and award was announced by presenters such as Geena Davis and Rosanna Arquette.
“How wonderful it is that our careers today can go beyond 40 years old,” said Nicole Kidman, 50, accepting the award for actress in a limited drama series for the acclaimed “Big Little Lies.” “Because 20 years ago, we were pretty washed up by this stage in our lives. That’s not the case now. [We are]… potent, powerful and viable. I just beg that the industry stays behind us because our stories are finally being told.”
Kidman was up against “Big Little Lies” co-stars Laura Dern, 50, Reese Witherspoon, 41, and “Feud’s” Susan Sarandon, 71, and Jessica Lange, 68.
One after another, seasoned female performers walked off stage with the SAG award, “the Actor,” who like Oscar, is a figurine of svelte young male. Oh how the tables have turned in Hollywood.
Frances McDormand, 60, won for her leading film role in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Her competitors included Judi Dench, 83, (“Victoria and Abdul”) and Sally Hawkins, 41, (“The Shape of Water”).
And on it went. In the supporting category, Allison Janney won for her portrayal of skater Tonya Harding’s chain-smoking mom in “I, Tonya.” Other nominees included Laurie Metcalf (“Lady Bird”) and Mary J. Blige (“Mudbound”).
And the winner for actress in a comedy series was Julia Louis-Dreyfus — setting a SAG record in the process— who played the country’s first female president in “Veep” and shared the category with inspirational figures to many in the room, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda of “Grace and Frankie.”
Men did grace the stage when they were called up to receive awards, or introduce clips of the films in which they starred. But the tone was set early on that this particular show was about the other half of the room.
“Truth is power, and women are stepping into their power,” said SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris. “We are in the midst of a massive cultural shift. With brave voices saying me too and advocates who know time is up. …. Make no mistake, this is not a moment in time, this is a movement.”
Bell was less pointed in her monologue, which was decidedly shorter than the opening remarks made by other recent awards hosts, Seth Meyers (the Golden Globes) or Stephen Colbert (the Emmys).
The “Good Place” star introduced herself as the “first lady,” and while riffing about the talent in the room, said “Elisabeth Moss is here from the documentary called ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’” The room erupted in laughter.
When Maya Rudolph co-presented the first award with her, the “Bridesmaids” star said to “Bad Moms” star Bell: “I really like your show about living in hell, what’s it called?”
“2018!” Bell replied.
Other than those sly swipes, the ceremony was less about the state of politics and more about the progress of women in the industry … and beyond.
It also demonstrated how Hollywood is still grappling with what is and isn’t actionable when it comes to sexual harassment claims.
Franco was there for his nomination for “The Disaster Artist.” Recent allegations against him, as well as other actors such as Aziz Ansari — nominated, but not in attendance— have generated debates about what constitutes a bad date and what tips over the line into sexual misconduct.
When Franco’s name was announced, the applause was there, but not as loud as it was weeks before at the Globes, before the story broke wide.
Presenter Brie Larson announced some concrete steps SAG is taking to deal with the issue. “In collaboration with Time’s Up and your union members in this room, there will be a new code of conduct to ensure that there is safety on set so we can continue to be vulnerable and empathetic [and do our jobs].”
Among the other members of the all-female presenter lineup were Olivia Munn, Marisa Tomei, Niecy Nash, Gina Rodriguez, Halle Berry, Lupita Nyong’o, Mandy Moore, Dakota Fanning and Kelly Marie Tran.
The presenter audience members rose to their feet for, however, was Rita Moreno. She may have been presenting Morgan Freeman with his lifetime achievement award, but it was Moreno whose presence spoke loudest in a room where women of all ages were finally being honored.