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Black Panther's Oscars chances rise with win from Screen Actors Guild

It triumphed over A Star is Born which was shut out

Los Angeles

SUPERHERO film Black Panther, heralded for its mainly black cast and vibrant celebration of African culture, won the top Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award on Sunday (Monday morning, Singapore time), boosting its stature ahead of next month's Oscars ceremony.

Black Panther from Walt Disney's Marvel Studios was named best movie ensemble in a surprise triumph over favourite A Star is Born, the Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga musical revival, which ended the night without any SAG trophies.

Glenn Close was honoured as best film actress for playing a devoted spouse in Sony Pictures film The Wife. Rami Malek won best film actor for his portrayal of Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, released by 21st Century Fox.

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The awards from SAG-AFTRA, Hollywood's largest actors' union, are closely watched because actors form the largest voting group in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hands out the Oscars.

Black Panther has been embraced by audiences, becoming the second highest grossing movie at worldwide box offices in 2018, and applauded as a milestone for diversity in Hollywood. "I didn't think I was going to have to speak," shocked star Chadwick Boseman said on stage, surrounded by his castmates.

Boseman said his co-stars "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", referring to the 1969 Nina Simone anthem of racial pride.

But he added that they realised early on that "we had something special that we wanted to give the world".

Malek, who defeated Cooper and Vice star Christian Bale, praised the character he played. "I get some power from him that is about stepping up and living your best life and being exactly who you want to be," Malek said of Mercury.

The victory for Black Panther is a sign that it will enjoy broad support in this year's Oscars best pictures race which has confounded experts with a strong field of contenders and no clear frontrunner.

Only one film in the last 23 years has won the prestigious best picture Oscar without being nominated for SAG's ensemble prize. That was last year's fantasy romance, The Shape of Water. That scenario could repeat itself this year as SAG snubbed some of the best picture candidates in the ensemble category, including Spanish-language drama Roma, British period comedy The Favourite and Golden Globe best comedy winner Green Book. The Oscars will be awarded on Feb 24.

Green Book did take home one SAG award. Mahershala Ali received the trophy for best supporting actor in a movie for his role as jazz pianist Don Shirley.

Emily Blunt won best supporting actress in a movie for A Quiet Place.

In television, Amazon series The Marvelous Mrs Maisel swept the comedy honours, winning best ensemble as well as best actor and actress for stars Tony Shalhoub and Rachel Brosnahan.

SAG also recognised M*A*S*H TV star Alan Alda with a lifetime achievement award. Alan Alda, best known for playing a wise-cracking Army doctor on the long-running anti-war television comedy M*A*S*H, received a lifetime achievement award from his fellow actors, celebrating a 60-year career on stage and screen.

Alda, 82, who announced in July that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease three years earlier, was presented the honour by film star and one-time-costar Tom Hanks.

"I see more than ever how proud I am to be part of our brotherhood and sisterhood of actors," Alda said, after receiving a sustained standing ovation from his peers..

Declaring it was every actor's job to "get inside a character's head and to search for a way to see life from that person's point of view". "It may never have been more urgent to see the world through another person's eyes than when a culture is divided so sharply," he added.

Alda is most remembered for his Emmy-winning portrayal of the insubordinate but highly skilled army surgeon Captain Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce on M*A*S*H, the landmark comedy series set during the Korean War, directed by Robert Altman and adapted from a novel of the same name by a real-life doctor who served in Korea.

The New York-born performer got his start in live theatre, made dozens of motion pictures and worked extensively elsewhere on TV, including two seasons on NBC's celebrated political drama The West Wing, playing a Republican US senator.

The West Wing earned Alda his sixth Emmy Award, on top of five previous Emmys for his work on M*A*S*H. He is the only performer to win Emmys for acting, directing and writing on the same series.

He also was a three-time Tony Award nominee for his Broadway work, most recently in 2005 for Glengarry Glen Ross. On the big screen, Alda earned an Oscar nomination for his supporting role as a real-life US senator, Republican Owen Brewster, in Martin Scorsese's 2004 historical biopic The Aviator about mogul Howard Hughes.

The success of M*A*S*H helped spur a prolific film career. Among his most memorable movies were Same Time, Next Year opposite Ellen Burstyn, California Suite with Jane Fonda, both in 1978, and the 1979 political drama co-starring Meryl Streep, The Seduction of Joe Tynan. Alda wrote and directed several of the films he starred in, including Joe Tynan. REUTERS