A record number of films predominantly about people of color may number in Friday’s announcement of the 10 PGA Awards nominees. The current record is four, set two years ago with “Fences,” “Hidden Figures,” “Moonlight,” and “Lion.” This year there are four such probable nominees: “Roma,” “BlacKkKlansman,” “Black Panther,” and if “Beale Street Could Talk.” There is a near certain fifth in “Green Book,” a biracial buddy comedy starring Viggo Mortensen and recent Oscar winner Mahershala Ali.
If the field weren’t so strong, it would not be unreasonable to see the critically-acclaimed “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Widows” make the list as well.
But the PGA typically follows the leading indicators set out by critics groups and prognostication sites like this one and the above five are on most lists of the year’s top pictures. And the PGA has been a leading indicator itself since giving its first Laurel award to eventual Oscar winner “Driving Miss Daisy” in 1989.
In the 29 years since, its winner has gone on to pair its Laurel with an Oscar 19 times and with a lone exception (“Braveheart in 1995), every Oscar winner in that period received at least a PGA nomination.
We have come a long away from #OscarsSoWhite, a meme that emerged immediately after the Oscar nominations were announced for the year 2014. Though the Martin Luther King Jr. biopic “Selma” was on the best picture ballot and Alenjandro Innaritu, who hails from Mexico, won best director for his Oscar winner “Birdman,” there were no actors of color nominated.
The voters in the PGA and the academy could argue, and probably did among themselves, that there were few nominees of diversity because there were few good movies of diversity. That argument would have been stronger if not for Cary Fukunaga’s “Beasts of No Nation” in 2015.
“Beasts” was a powerful, heart-breaking drama about an African child made into a combat soldier fighting an unknown enemy, and Idris Elba, as the boy’s evil commandant, received a slew of nominations, including a Golden Globe and SAG, before the film and he were overlooked by the guild and academy.
The PGA had 10 nominees that year and the Academy eight, but no room for “Beasts.” The complete shut-out of films and people of color that year raised the #OscarsSoWhite cry to a roar and the Academy responded with some radical and controversial changes to improve the awards outlook for diversity.
Whether because of those changes or other vagaries of filmmaking, Hollywood is now coming to us in living color.
Be sure to check out how our experts rank this year’s Oscar contenders. Then take a look at the most up-to-date combined odds before you make your own Oscar predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominations are announced on January 22.