The cast of Hidden Figures has broken another barrier in a monumental year for diversity in mainstream movies.
Fronted by Taraji P. Henson, Hidden Figures‘ predominantly African-American ensemble earned the Screen Actors Guild Award for outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture Sunday night, beating out the band of actors behind fellow contenders Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, Fences and Captain Fantastic.
Henson dedicated the acceptance speech to the three “American heroes” who inspired the film.
“This film is about unity,” she said. “The shoulders of the women that we stand on are three American heroes: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. Without them, we would not know how to reach the stars.”
“This story is about what happens when we put our difference aside and we come together as a human race,” she concluded. “They are hidden figures no more!”
She also paid tribute to John Glenn, the first astronaut to orbit earth, who died on Dec. 8.
“God rest his soul in peace, John Glenn,” she said as the rest of the cast applauded.
The Theodore Melfi-directed crowd-pleaser follows three female, African-American NASA mathematicians who successfully aided the U.S. space program amid racial tensions in the 1960s.
Stars Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monáe were also nominated this year as part of the ensemble cast of Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight.
“African-American women were living at the time where segregation was the letter of the law,” Octavia Spencer, whose performance in Hidden Figures earned her an Oscar nomination Tuesday morning, previously told PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly‘s editorial director, Jess Cagle, about the real-life women who inspired the film’s story. “They were basically treated as second-class citizens, but they weren’t complaining. They knew that they had more to offer, and they basically rolled up their sleeves and they did the work to be a part of something greater than themselves.”
Across the past 22 SAG Awards ceremonies, only one film has won the guild’s ensemble award without a corresponding Best Picture nomination from the Academy: 1996’s The Birdcage. Nine prior films won the SAG award but did not go on to translate their Best Picture nominations into an Oscar victory.
Since the SAG Awards’ inaugural ceremony in 1995, Mel Gibson’s Braveheart remains the only film to have won the Academy Award for Best Picture without a SAG ensemble nod. This year, despite SAG’s nearly 200,000-strong ranks providing crossover membership for AMPAS’ largest voting branch, Damien Chazelle’s La La Land — which earned a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations and won the Producers Guild of America’s top award earlier this week — was ignored by the SAG voting committee in the ensemble category.
The 23rd annual Screen Actors Guild Awards aired live from Los Angeles Sunday on TNT and TBS.