Films on race '12 Years a Slave,' 'The Butler' lead SAG nominees

Wed Dec 11, 2013 2:20pm EST
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By Mary Milliken

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The actors who portrayed the brutality of American slavery in the film "12 Years a Slave" won the most nominations for Screen Actors Guild awards on Wednesday, giving the movie momentum in the run-up to the industry's top awards, the Oscars.

"12 Years a Slave," based on the real-life story of Solomon Northup, garnered nominations in four of SAG's five film categories, including the organization's top award, best ensemble cast. British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays the free black man sold into slavery on Louisiana plantations, was nominated for best actor.

And in another endorsement of film on American black history, the Hollywood actors group revived the awards fortunes of the civil rights drama "Lee Daniels' The Butler," nominating it for best ensemble cast and Forest Whitaker as the White House butler and Oprah Winfrey as his troubled wife in best actor and best supporting actress categories.

Rounding out the best ensemble cast category - a key indicator for the Oscar best picture - were family dysfunction drama "August: Osage County," AIDS treatment tale "Dallas Buyers Club," which also landed a total of three nominations, and the 1970s con-artist drama "American Hustle," which earned two.

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards are a key indicator during Hollywood's busy awards season that culminates with the Academy Awards, which will be handed out in March, because actors make up one of the largest voting groups for the Oscars. Winners of SAG awards will be announced in a ceremony in Los Angeles on January 18.

The SAG nominations underscored the big year for black and race-themed films and for black filmmakers like Lee Daniels and Steve McQueen, the British director of "12 Years a Slave."

"Perhaps they've come about because with a black president in the White House, it's somehow easier to talk about these subjects than it was before," said Scott Foundas, chief film critic at Variety.

The nominations also reflected a predilection for intimate films made with small budgets. "Dallas Buyers Club," starring Matthew McConaughey as a straight rodeo cowboy fighting for access to AIDS treatment, was made for a mere $5 million, while "12 Years a Slave" came in under $20 million. That contrasts with blockbuster action films that often cost over $100 million.   Continued...

Actors Clark Gregg and Sasha Alexander announce nominees for the 20th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at Pacific Design Center's SilverScreen theatre in West Hollywood, California December 11, 2013. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni