The 23rd annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, or SAG Awards for short, took place on Sunday, Jan. 29. The show, which honors the best achievements in film and television performances from the previous year, was full of surprises. There were welcome celebrations of diversity and many major political statements. As Scandal star Kerry Washington stated, “A lot of people are saying right now that actors shouldn’t express their opinions when it comes to politics. But the truth is, actors are activists no matter what, because we embody the worth and humanity of all people.” Here are seven empowering moments from the SAG Awards that you need to know about.
1. Ashton Kutcher's introduction
Ashton Kutcher—whose wife Mila Kunis came to the United States from Ukraine on a refugee visa when she was seven years old—opened the show by saying: “Good evening, fellow SAG-AFTRA members and everyone at home—and everyone in airports that belong in my America. You are a part of the fabric of who we are, and we love you and we welcome you.” His intro was followed by resounding applause from the audience.
2. Stranger Things star David Harbour's call to action
When the Stranger Things cast won Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, the actor who plays Chief Jim Hopper spoke up. "Now, as we act in the continuing narrative of Stranger Things, we 1983 midwesterners will repel bullies, we will shelter freaks and outcasts—those who have no homes—we will get past the lies. We will hunt monsters. And when we are at a loss amidst the hypocrisy and casual violence of certain individuals and institutions, we will, as per Chief Jim Hopper, punch some people in the face when they seek to destroy what we have envisioned for ourselves and the marginalized. And we will do it all with soul, with heart and with joy. We thank you for this responsibility," he said to cheers and a standing ovation from the crowd.
3. Mahershala Ali's speech about acceptance
Mahershala Ali won the supporting actor statue for his role in Moonlight. When he accepted the award, he had some powerful words to share about being Muslim. Ali's emotional delivery emphasized the importance of accepting other people and celebrating their differences. “When we kind of get caught up in the minutiae, the details that make us different, I think there’s two ways of seeing that," he said. "There’s an opportunity to see the texture of that person, the characteristics that make them unique, and then there’s an opportunity to go to war about it, and to say that that person is different from me, and I don’t like you, so let’s battle.”
4. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Taylor Schilling's personal stories
Veep's Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Orange Is the New Black's Taylor Schilling both shared accounts about their immigrant families coming to the United States. Louis-Dreyfus, the daughter of an immigrant who fled the persecution of Nazi-occupied France, was extremely straightforward in her response to President Trump's executive order on immigration. "Because I love this country I am horrified by its blemishes," she said. "The immigrant ban is a blemish and un-American."
5. Hidden Figures cast and Denzel Washington's big wins
To the surprise of some, Hidden Figures won Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Theatrical Motion Picture. The movie is about the true triumphs of a team of African-American women working for NASA at the time of the program's first successful space missions. The mathematical contributions of three women were critical to this success. Denzel Washington was presented the award for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for Fences. His costar Viola Davis won for supporting actress. While Hollywood award shows are not nearly diverse enough, these wins are a step in the right direction.
6. Simon Helberg and Jocelyn Towne's necessary fashion statement
On a night that was more about action than style, Big Bang Theory star Simon Helberg joined his wife, Jocelyn Towne, in protesting the "Muslim ban." She painted the words "let them in" across her chest, while he held a sign that said "refugees welcome."
7. Taraji P. Henson's inspiring words
Taraji P. Henson's acceptance speech for the cast of Hidden Figures proved that the film, which takes place primarily in the early 1960s, is still just as relevant today. “This story is about what happens when we put our differences aside, and we come together as a human race, we win,” she said. “Love wins every time.”