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Story highlights

NEW: "The Help" wins best cast, best actress, best supporting actress at SAG awards

NEW: "Artist" lead Jean Dujardin wins best actor in a film

Steve Buscemi's "Boardwalk Empire" wins best cast in TV drama series

"Modern Family" wins best TV comedy ensemble for second straight year

Los Angeles CNN —  

“The Help,” a movie about the treatment of maids in a Mississippi town during the civil rights era, took top honors at the Screen Actors Guild Awards Sunday night, making it the movie to watch as the Oscar awards approach next month.

Viola Davis won the best actress trophy, while Octavia Spencer was given the best supporting actress honor. Both women portrayed maids.

“The Help” also won the best cast ensemble SAG award.

Cover story: Is ‘The Help’ heroic or stereotyping?

“The stain of racism and sexism is not just for people of color and women,” Davis said. “It’s all of our burden, all of us.”

Davis’ best actress win seemed to throw the Oscar competition into a frenzy, since she beat Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams, actresses who won Golden Globes two weeks ago.

Streep was nominated for her portrayal of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in “Iron Lady,” and MIchelle Williams, was nominated for playing movie legend Marilyn Monroe in “My Week With Marilyn.”

Jean Dujardin won the SAG best actor in a film award for his lead role in “The Artist,” a black-and-white, silent film.

The win gives Dujardin an apparent edge against George Clooney and the three other nominees in next month’s Oscar best actor competition.

Spencer’s supporting actress SAG award makes her a clear frontrunner for the supporting actress Oscar, considering she also won the Golden Globe.

“These women represent our mothers and grandmothers,” Spencer said, referring to the maids portrayed in “The Help.” “By honoring me, you’re honoring them.”

Christopher Plummer, 82, also earned frontrunner status for in the Academy Award best supporting actor competition by winning the SAG honor Sunday night for his role in “The Beginners.”

“I just cannot tell you how much fun I’ve had being a member of the world’s second oldest profession,” Plummer said as he accepted his SAG trophy.

Hollywood’s awards season neared mid-point Sunday night with the 18th annual Screen Actors Guild honors – the only industry awards that solely recognize performers.

The SAG actor trophies go to both television and film actors, and the winners are chosen by their acting peers.

SAG President Ken Howard also used the event to announce the actor union’s board approved a proposal to merge with AFTRA, another acting union, pending approval of their memberships.

On the prime-time television side, HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” won for best ensemble cast in a drama series for a second straight year. It was also the second consecutive time for the show’s star Steve Buscemi to win the SAG best actor in a TV drama award his role of Enoch “Nucky” Thompson.

Jessica Lange won the SAG trophy for best actress in a TV drama series for her work in the FX’s “American Horror Story.” It is her first SAG honor.

“It was a real leap of faith for me to jump into it, but it’s been a wonderful ride,” Lange said of her role as “Constance.”

In the television movie or miniseries categories, best actress award went to Kate Winslet for “Mildred Pierce.” Paul Giamatti won best actor for his portrayal of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke in “Too Big To Fail.”

“Modern Family” won the best ensemble cast in a TV comedy series for a second year.

iReporter captures some SAG moments

Alec Baldwin won SAG’s best actor in a TV comedy series for “30 Rock,” while 89-year-old Betty White was given the best actress in a comedy award for “Hot in Cleveland,” which she won last year.

“I don’t think they can read,” White said as she accepted. “I think they made a terrible mistake.”

The show at the Shrine Exposition Center aired on TNT and TBS. Both TNT and TBS are units of Time Warner, the parent company of CNN.