We’re a long way from #OscarsSoWhite. The 2017 Oscar nominations were announced on Tuesday, January 24, and after two straight years of completely whitewashed acting nominations people of color were more heavily represented than they have been in years — or perhaps ever.
Nonwhite actors are present in every single acting race: Ruth Negga (“Loving”) for Best Actress; Denzel Washington (“Fences”) for Best Actor; Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”) and Dev Patel (“Lion”) for Best Supporting Actor; and Viola Davis (“Fences”), Naomie Harris (“Moonlight”) and Octavia Spencer (“ ”) for Best Supporting Actress. And consider how much history was made just in those categories: Negga is only the 11th black woman ever nominated for Best Actress, Washington extends his record as the most nominated black actor with his seventh bid, Patel is only the third actor of Indian descent to receive a nomination, and the Best Supporting Actress race marks the first time in Oscar history that any acting category is majority black.
Davis additionally makes history as the first black woman to earn three Oscar nominations for acting, and Spencer is only the third to be nominated twice. Whoopi Goldberg is the only other black actress with multiple nominations (lead nomination for “The Color Purple” in 1985, supporting win for “Ghost” in 1990).
But it doesn’t stop there. People of color are nominated in seven of the top eight Oscar categories. Denzel Washington (“Fences”), Pharrell Williams (“Hidden Figures”) and Kimberly Steward (“Manchester by the Sea”) are nominated for producing Best Picture contenders. This is the first time in Oscar history that three films with black producers have been nominated for the top prize, and Steward is only the second black woman to be nominated for producing, following Oprah Winfrey (“Selma,” 2014).
Meanwhile, Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”) became only the fourth black filmmaker nominated for Best Director, and he and co-writer Tarell Alvin McCraney contend for Best Adapted Screenplay along with the late playwright August Wilson, nominated posthumously for adapting his play “Fences.”
History was also made below the line. “Moonlight” co-editor Joi McMillon is only the second black nominee for Best Film Editing, and the first black woman to be recognized in that contest. And Bradford Young (“Arrival”) is only the second black nominee for Best Cinematography.
Though she was notoriously snubbed for Best Director for “Selma” two years ago, filmmaker Ava DuVernay was able to break a different glass ceiling this year as the first black female director to be nominated for Best Documentary Feature for “13th.” Three other black directors are nominated in that category — Ezra Edelman (“O.J.: Made in America”), Raoul Peck (“I Am Not Your Negro”) and Roger Ross Williams (“Life Animated”) — which is unprecedented in the history of that contest.
Puerto Rican composer Lin-Manuel Miranda is aiming to complete his EGOT grand slam with his nomination for Best Original Song for “How Far I’ll Go” from “Moana.” The Emmy, Tony and Grammy winner is 37 years old and would be the youngest ever to accomplish that feat, sliding in just under Robert Lopez, who was 39 when he completed his EGOT with an Oscar for “Let it Go” from “Frozen” in March 2014.
Mexican cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (“Silence”) also earned a nomination, though it’s important to note that overall Latin and Latin-American artists didn’t make nearly the strides that black artists did this year and are still greatly underrepresented at the Oscars, so there are improvements yet to be made.
But on balance representation has undoubtedly improved this year in terms of the content that was recognized by the film industry’s top award, both in front of and behind the camera. However, it’s important not to become complacent. Remember that the last two years of #OscarsSoWhite immediately followed a historic Oscars where “12 Years a Slave” became the first film by a black director and told from a primarily black point of view to win Best Picture.
Said Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of the online racial justice organization Color of Change in a statement about these Oscar nominations, “Achieving this diversity is not the responsibility of the academy alone. That responsibility also lies with casting directors, studio executives, and financial backers who have a moral responsibility to support projects that tell authentic, compassionate stories that reflect the diversity of our country and to offer opportunities on screen and behind the scenes to Black film professionals, as well as Latino, Asian American, and Native American film professionals, who also remain severely underrecognized and underrepresented in Hollywood.”
But this is a strong foundation to build upon, especially behind the scenes. The more diversity we see among producers, writers and directors, the more likely we are to see diversity reflected in the stories told on-screen. The more people of color see themselves reflected in popular media, the more likely we are to see people of color pursue careers — and hopefully be embraced as — actors, writers, directors, cinematographers, editors, composers and more. And the more bona fide hit movies there are like “Hidden Figures,” the less they will be seen as exceptions to the rule — they just rule.
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