Two years after #OscarsSoWhite, a stellar field of actors of color will show us how far we’ve come

It has been two years since #OscarSoWhite became a meme in the collective consciousness of Hollywood and made the motion picture academy the scapegoat for a lack of diversity that runs through the entire movie industry. For two years running, at the 2015 and 2016 Oscars, there were no people of color nominated in the acting categories.

The academy, scorched by a public relations flash fire, acted quickly to change rules of membership to add greater diversity to its voter registry. The secrecy of their ballots preclude our ever knowing whether those moves are reflected in subsequent nominations, but more diversity there is.

Of the 20 available acting nomination slots last year, five were taken by black actors and one by the Indian-British actor Dev Patel (“Lion”). Two of the African-American actors, Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”) and Viola Davis (“Fences”), won Oscars for supporting performances.

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This year, the OscarsLessWhite has a relative bounty of actors of color in contention. Denzel Washington, whose run of nominations was interrupted by the 2015-16 shutout, has already made the best actor ballots of the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild for his role as a people’s lawyer tempted away from his principles in “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”

Daniel Kaluuya, an Ugandan-Brit, has also made both Globe and SAG ballots for his performance in “Get Out,” a racial horror film in which he plays a man following his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) to a weekend family introduction that turns into something way more serious than where they sleep.  Besides, Kaluuya, “Get Out” might also earn recognition for Jordan Peele, who makes an astonishing debut as both writer and director of the highly-regarded film.

Race is also a main concern of Dee Rees’ “Mudbound,” a gritty drama about neighbors — one white, one black — who return from the World War II battlefield to encounter more combat and enemies in Jim Crow Louisiana. Jason Mitchell, who plays the black soldier, is a definite contender for supporting actor. And Mary J. Blige, playing the mother of Mitchell and his siblings, has made both Globe and SAG ballots. She could also score a nomination for a song, “Mighty River,” she co-wrote and sings on the soundtrack.

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If there is a lock among non-white actors this year, it is Hong Chau, who plays a Vietnamese refugee-turned-house cleaner in the miniaturized world of Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing.” Chau, who was born in Thailand to Vietnamese parents and raised in east New Orleans, gives that kind of feisty-lovable supporting performance that jumps off the screen and starts giving an Oscar speech. She’d get my vote if I had one.

The odds are longer but still there for Kumail Nanjianij, the Pakistan-American stand-up comedian who co-wrote and stars in “The Big Sick,” an indie comedy based loosely on his interracial relationship with his co-writer Emily Gordon.

Idris Elba, who will break into this club soon, will get a good look for supporting actor from “Molly’s Game,” playing a high-priced lawyer who takes a risk representing a stubborn gambler in the crosshairs of the FBI.

There were other movies this year with strong black actors and themes. Reginald Hudlin directed Chadwick Boseman in the title role of “Marshall,” a look at the early career of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and Kathryn Bigelow‘s “Detroit” takes a harrowing look at the torture and killing of innocent black men taken for snipers in a Detroit motel, based on a true story whose depressing ending killed any world-of-mouth publicity it might have had.

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It’s a virtual certainty there will be diversity on the ballots of the 90th Academy Awards, not because voters have been cowed by the flack they received two years ago, or had their ranks expanded to include more minority members, but because they’re looking at a rich field of worthy candidates. Just so.

Be sure to make your Oscar nomination predictions so that Hollywood studio executives and top name stars can see how their films are faring in our Academy Awards odds. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on January 23. And join in the fierce debate over the 2018 Oscars taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our film forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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