The Screen Actors Guild awards celebrated the craft of acting last Sunday and delivered one of the best surprises in film awards history — Black Panther, a Marvel superhero blockbuster, had won the top honour of the night. A surprised Chadwick Boseman, who played the regal titular character, admitted, “I didn’t think I was going to have to speak.”
He did give a speech, and it was a powerful one.
Speaking on behalf of the cast, which included Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, Danai Gurira and Michael B Jordan who gathered on stage, Boseman seized the opportunity to acknowledge “genius” director Ryan Coogler as well as the film’s impact on pop culture and the representation of African-American actors in Hollywood.
“We know what it’s like to be told there’s not a screen for you to be featured on, a stage for you to be featured on. We know what it’s like to be the tail and not the head. We know what it’s like to be beneath and not above. And that is what we went to work with every day because we knew — not that we would be around during award season or that it would make a billion dollars, but we knew we had something special that we wanted to give the world. That we could be full human beings in the roles that we were playing, that we could create a world that exemplified a world that we wanted to see.”
Comic book movies have long been considered inferior art but Black Panther’s victory at SAG, as well as its Best Picture nomination for the Academy Awards, has proven that superhero blockbusters are gaining cultural prestige. The film has outpaced its cinematic peers, not only because it was delivered in a way that was thoughtful and daring, but it also upended African stereotypes. Winning the award’s top gong, and beating out the casts of A Star is Born, BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody and Crazy Rich Asians, is a landmark moment for the blockbuster with a predominantly black cast as well as the film industry as a whole.
The cast has been asked repeatedly if the blockbuster's positive response changed the industry, to which Boseman replied, “To be young, gifted and black, we all know what it’s like to be told that there is not a place for you to be featured, yet you are young, gifted and black.
“We knew that we had something that we wanted to give. And to come to work with every day and to solve problems with this group of people every day, with this director, that is something that I wish all actors would get the opportunity to experience. If you get to experience that, you will be a fulfilled artist.”
See the full list of SAG winners here.