Los Angeles - The Help, a big-screen drama focusing on race relations in America, was the big winner at the Screen Actors Guild awards ceremony on Sunday, sweeping the top prizes for best actress, best supporting actress and best ensemble.
The film, which tells the story of an aspiring journalist who decides to write a book exposing racism faced by domestic help in the 1960s, beat black-and-white silent movie The Artist, Bridesmaids, The Descendants and other films that had been expected to win top honours.
The Screen Actors Guild are seen as one of the key preludes to the Oscars ceremony, the culmination of the Hollywood awards season, that will be held on February 26.
"It's been such a labor of love," said Viola Davis, the winner of the best actress award, as she reminisced about her work in The Help.
"I just want to say that (the movie) is not just about coloured people or women, it's about all of us," she added. "We all can inspire change, every single one of us."
Star studded group
Octavia Spencer, who won the prize for best supporting actress, said the movie was "a light for women who haven't been given a voice in American history."
"I'm thrilled to hold this honour," Spencer pointed out.
Spencer outdid Argentine-born French actress Berenice Bejo, of the silent film The Artist. The two will meet and compete again in the same category at the Oscars.
French actor Jean Dujardin was honoured as the best leading actor for his role in The Artist, which is seen by movie critics as a favourite for winning an Oscar next month.
"It's a love story, a simple story, but it's not just a black-and-white and silent movie," said the Frenchman, thanking his colleagues. It's a new visual and emotional experience for the audience."
Dujardin competed for the top actor's prize against some of the biggest Hollywood names, including George Clooney (The Descendants), Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar) and Brad Pitt (Moneyball).
Veteran Canadian actor Christopher Plummer won the award for best supporting actor. Plummer, 82, starred in Beginners, where he played a man who comes to terms with his homosexuality late in life.
The 18th SAG ceremony got under way in Los Angeles with a star-studded group in attendance, including Clooney, Dujardin, Meryl Streep, Michelle Williams and Pitt, who was accompanied by his companion, Angelina Jolie.
In the television category, the comedy Modern Family won the SAG award for best cast in a comedy.
Colombian bombshell Sofia Vergara, who was nominated for her role as Gloria in Modern Family, walked away empty-handed as veteran Betty White, 90, took the award for her role in the comedy Hot in Cleveland.
It was not all bad news for Modern Family, however. It took the best comedy cast defeating Glee, The Big Bang Theory, 30 Rock and The Office.
On Saturday, French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius won the top honour from the Directors Guild of America for The Artist, an award that has traditionally been a strong indicator of Oscar glory.
Hazanavicius captured the DGA's outstanding achievement in feature film award, beating out competition from Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese for Midnight in Paris and Hugo respectively, and David Fincher and Alexander Payne for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Descendants.
The Artist had already won the top prize from the Producers Guild of America (PGA) earlier this month - another key pre-Oscar bellwether -and picked up three Golden Globes including best picture on January 15.
The film, a tribute to the silent movie era in which a non-speaking star battles to save his career after it is torpedoed by the arrival of the "talkies", is up for 10 Oscars, including best picture and best director.
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