Something truly unexpected happened at the 25th Screen Actors Guild Awards last night: Black Panther actually won something! Always a bridesmaid, never the bride, Black Panther’s cast has been marched into one awards show after another this season only to end up simply sitting there and watching other people deliver acceptance speeches. Apart from bathroom breaks or trips to the bar, the only time anyone from Black Panther has had to leave their seat was to give Kevin Feige a standing ovation when he was given a career achievement award by the Producers Guild of America.
Thus, winning anything at this point is a nice surprise. The specific award they won, however, is a potential game-changer for the Oscars. Going up against Crazy Rich Asians, BlacKkKlansman, A Star is Born, and Bohemian Rhapsody, Black Panther emerged victorious for the Best Ensemble Cast award (er, technically it’s the Outstanding Performance By a Cast in Motion Picture award, but no one calls it that). That’s SAG’s Best Picture equivalent, an honor which seemed to genuinely catch Chadwick Boseman off guard, beginning his speech with, “I truly did not expect to have to talk tonight.”
After a requisite bit of thanking the director and producers, he went on to praise his fellow cast members and celebrate what the film’s monumental success must mean to the industry and all black actors everywhere if things are truly going to change for the better. He stumbled a bit, however, at the end, as he struggled to completely remember the conclusion he was trying to reach.
That’s ok. He has exactly four weeks to fine tune it since clearly we can expect to see Boseman and the rest up on stage accepting Best Picture at the Oscars next month. Right? Roma, A Star is Born, and Green Book had been considered the favorites, but this changes everything! SAG has 160,00 members, 1,305 of whom also get to vote for the Oscars, representing easily the single largest branch of the Academy. It’s hard then to win the major awards without plenty of support from the actors, and Black Panther certainly has that going for it.
Place your bets. Submit your Oscar picks in whatever office voting pool you’re caught up in. Officially declare your Oscar predictions in a blog post or tweet. However you choose to go about it, move forward with complete certainty that Black Panther will now join Shakespeare in Love, Crash, The Artist, Dances With Wolves, How Green Was My Valley, The King’s Speech, and Driving Miss Daisy on the hallowed and completely unquestionable list of Best Picture winners (sarcasm noted).
Record scratch time.
Here’s the thing: SAG is actually only a good predictor for the individual acting awards – male and female lead/supporting. Win there and you’re highly likely to repeat at the Oscars – unless you’ve somehow been snubbed by the Academy as is the case with last night’s SAG winner for Best Supporting Actress, Emily Blunt for A Quiet Place. Win the Ensemble award, though, and it’s more like you have a forty-sixty shot to repeat (not great odds).
THR’s awards expert Scott Feinberg explains why. Hint: it’s largely because no one knows for sure how to even define “Best Ensemble”:
Some take the category’s title literally and seek to nominate and then honor the best assemblage of actors; others gravitate toward the largest assemblage of actors in a good movie; and others simply see it as the closest thing the SAG Awards have to a best picture category and treat it accordingly. Perhaps because of confusion over what it actually means, this category’s winner has gone on to win the best picture Oscar on only 11 of the 23 previous occasions in which it has been presented
Still, three of those eleven winners were films whose later Best Picture victory laps defied all predictions: 1998’s Shakespeare in Love, 2005’s Crash and 2015’s Spotlight. In fact, a SAG win was the only thing which presaged those upsets. Might the same now be in store for Black Panther?
I’m not so sure. Roma and Green Book keep winning everywhere they’re nominated, but they were both surprisingly snubbed for a Best Ensemble nomination. So, Black Panther won, but it wasn’t going up against the true front-runners. Historically, however, that would seem more like the kiss of death for Roma and Green Book than Black Panther. “Without a best ensemble SAG Award nomination, only two films in 23 years have won the best picture Oscar,” Feinberg points out. “1995’s Braveheart and 2017’s The Shape of Water.” Could it now happen two years in a row?
What about BlacKkKlansman, though? It’s the only movie this year to score Oscar nominations in all of the key categories: picture, directing, writing, acting and film editing. It’s also the only one which seems to keep getting nominated in the major categories by all other precursors awards shows. Sure, it also keeps losing at all of those shows, but might that steady “everyone at least really likes it” presence suggests an ability to prevail in the Academy’s preferential balloting system?
Ahem. How are not higher on The Favourite!? It tied Roma for the most Oscar nominations (10). Surely that has to mean something.
Yeah, tell that to La La Land, The Revenant, The Grand Budapest Hotel, American Hustle, Gravity, Lincoln, Hugo, and various other movies which went into the Oscars with the most nominations and walked out without Best Picture. American Hustle suffered the indignity of losing everything it was nominated for; the others all prevailed in at least one category. I don’t see The Favourite being shut out like American Hustle, but it also seems a tad too esoteric to win Best Picture.
Truth is: unlike most years, this race is wide open. It’s likely all going to come down to the preferential ballots which force the voters to rank their top 5 Best Picture nominees. (I explained the process in more detail last year.) No film this year is going to get enough #1 rankings to win this thing outright. It’s going to be the film which also gets enough #2’s and #3’s. The Favourite, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Vice seem unlikely to meet that threshold. It’s thus a five-way race between A Star is Born, Green Book, Roma, BlacKkKlansman, and Black Panther, or at least a two-race between Green Book and Roma with the others as strong upset picks.
Winning at SAG finally puts Black Panther in that race. It’s still not the front-runner, but to quote an older movie made by Green Book’s director Peter Farrelly: “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!”