The Screen Actors Guild Awards show was broadcast live on TNT at 5:00 pm Pacific Sunday. The show was proceeding apace, with Actor trophies being bestowed upon worthy recipients such as Uzo Aduba in Orange Is the New Black (HBO) and Patricia Arquette in the twelve-years-in-the-making film Boyhood, when Guild president Ken Howard took the stage.
Howard’s first move was to give a shoutout to no-show winning actor in a TV movie or mini-series Mark Ruffalo for the HBO film version of the play The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer. Ruffalo played a gay man at the onset of the AIDS-HIV epidemic in 1980s New York. His performance may have been stellar, but why extol an actor who couldn’t be bothered to show up? No apology, no explanation. Perhaps this was a sign of things to come.
Next Howard tipped his hat to all the creative unions, culminating with… the AFL-CIO?
As for “our men and women of the armed forces and our beloved military canines… who protect the freedom of expression that we, as artists, now —more than ever — hold so dear,” one wonders, why now more than ever? Howard did not say.
Then Howard got to the point: “Since the dawn of motion pictures, filmmakers have used this art form, not only as entertainment, but as a mirror to reflect vital issues facing society… Tonight we also reflect on some landmark portrayals that depict important subjects that affect us all.”
Claudette Colbert with her black servant woman, telling her to send her own daughter to some good college… in the South
Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick playing drunk in a scene from The Days of Wine and Roses
A couple of clips from movies about labor vs management
Another film about a desperate drunk
Katherine Hepburn driving Spencer Tracy, saying, “A woman does the same, the same, mind you, and she’s an outcast.”
Gregory Peck pretending to be a Jew checking into a hotel
Sidney Poitier being told by a white actor that he’ll only get into the back door of a hotel carrying a pail and a mop
Frank Sinatra going cold turkey to kick his heroin habit, acting like a cockroach flailing on its back
Brando, On the Waterfront (labor movement)
Sidney Poitier again, poking his finger and exhorting his father over “the way it was”
Maude? Different Strokes? Homosexuality? Huh?
William Shatner on Star Trek emphatically telling a dwarf, “Size, shape, or color — makes no difference”
West Side Story: “Spic. Mick. Wop”
Sally Field standing on a table with a sign saying UNION in Norma Rae
Meryl Streep getting nagged by her daughter for smoking in August, Osage County
Leo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, playing a retarded boy
Denzel confessing to being an alcoholic, Mike (not Molly) confessing to being an overeater
Gay, fat, gay, gay, women’s rights, Ellen, Lily Tomlin, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
Racism, Martin Luther King, more women’s rights
And the latest “important issue facing society:” a scene between a transgendered Jeffrey Tambor and his wife, who laughs, “We got gay married before it was even fashionable!” (This show just won the Golden Globe.)
In the mind of Ken Howard and the Screen Actors Guild (full disclosure: I am a card carrying member), this montage represents the pinnacle of achievement of the film and television industry. Each and every clip shines the harsh light of klieg upon the horrible culture of bigotry and oppression in which we live.
To the contrary, I present this as a lesson on how to diminish art by aligning it with politics — “correct” politics.
The Guild owes an apology to the extraordinary performers who were honored tonight: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bill Macy, Uz0 Aduba, Eddie Redmayne, Patricia Arquette, and all the other winners who created indelible characters this year.
Their work far surpassed finger pointing platitudes and cute clips.
So please, SAG-AFTRA: Give the awards to the actors. Resist patting yourselves on the back.