Actresses Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer were the maids of honor at Sunday’s Screen Actors Guild Awards, where their Deep South drama “The Help” won them acting prizes and earned the trophy for overall cast performance.
Davis won “Lead Female Actor” and Spencer “Supporting Female Actor” for “The Help.”
The wins boost the actors’ prospects for the same honors at the February 26 Academy Awards.
In “The Help,” Davis and Spencer play black maids going public with uneasy truths about their white employers in 1960s Mississippi.
“I just have to say that the stain of racism and sexism is not just for people of color or women. It’s all of our burden, all of us,” Davis said, accepting the ensemble prize on behalf of her “The Help” co-stars.
Accepting her best-actress award, Davis singled out two performers in the audience who inspired her early in her career: “The Help” co-star Cicely Tyson and Meryl Streep, Davis’ co-star in the 2008 drama “Doubt” and one of the nominees she beat out for the SAG prize. Streep had been nominated as Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady,” a role that won her the dramatic actress award at the Golden Globes over Davis.
Spencer, a veteran actress who had toiled in small TV and movie parts previously, had a breakout role in “The Help” as a brassy maid whose mouth continually gets her in trouble.
“I’m going to dedicate this to the downtrodden, the under-served, the underprivileged, overtaxed – whether emotionally, physically or financially,” Spencer said.
The winners at the SAG ceremony often go on to earn Oscars. All four acting recipients at SAG last year later took home Oscars.
The same generally holds true for the weekend’s other big Hollywood honors, the Directors Guild of America Awards. The Directors Guild winner has gone on to earn the best-director Oscar 57 times in the 63-year history of the union’s awards show.
The guild’s ensemble prize, considered the ceremony’s equivalent of a best-picture honor, has a spotty record at predicting what will win the top award at the Oscars.
The SAG ensemble recipient has gone on to claim the top Oscar only eight times in the 16 years since the guild added the category.
Though “The Help” won the “Cast in a Motion Picture,” “The Artist” and George Clooney’s family drama “The Descendants” are considered stronger contenders for the best-picture Oscar.
Both “The Artist” and “The Descendants” also were nominated for writing and directing Oscars, categories where serious best-picture candidates generally need to be in the running. “The Help” missed out on nominations in both of those Oscar categories.