by G. Brown
The 2017 Oscar Nominations meant good news for more Black actors, directors and Black cast movies showing that the Academy is inching its way towards being more diverse. Critically acclaimed and box office hit “Hidden Figures” along with “Fences” and “Moonlight” are all up for Best Picture. While “Moonlight” hasn’t dominated at the box office like “Hidden Figures”, it is leading the pack in nominations when it comes to films starring or headed by people of color. “Moonlight” earned eight nominations including best cinematography, editing and best original score. Two of the “Moonlight” actors also received nominations—Marhershala Ali for Best Actor and Naomie Harris for Best Actress.
Other actors in the Best or Supporting Actors/Actress categories including Denzel Washington (“Fences”), Viola Davis (“Fences”), Octavia Spencer (“Hidden Figures”) and Ruth Negga (“Loving”).
Director Barry Jenkins has earned admission to a very exclusive club of Black directors to be nominated. The “Moonlight” director is only the fourth Black director in Oscar’s 89 year history to get a nod in the Best Director category and is a strong contender to make history as the first Black director to ever actually win.
Though he missed out on being nominated in the Best Director category, Denzel Washington still has much to celebrate. Little known fact, Washington has received more Oscar noms than any other Black actor.
This year’s list of nominees is markedly different than what we witnessed a year ago when the slate of actors, directors and movies nominated were so melanin deprived it spawned the #OscarSoWhite controversy. But the scales are tipping a bit to acknowledge more actors of color. After the #OscarSoWhite fiasco, The Academy made changes including the addition of 683 members to break away from the predominantly White, male and older make up of the voting body. This year, of the actors nominated in top categories of lead actor/actresses and supporting roles, 13 of the nominees are White, 6 are Black and 1 is Indian. While that’s still a 2-to-1 margin of White vs. Black, it is improvement none the less and more diverse. Small victories are noteworthy, like Blacks and people of color are represented in all major categories. In the Best Supporting Actress category, the majority of the nominees, (Viola Davis, Naomie Harris and Octavia Spencer) are Black–not sure that’s ever happened before.
So the strides taken by the Academy are commendable, but not complete. Most major categories indeed include Black nominees. But are these nominations a sign of progress or more indicative of some quota being met to include at least 1 Black in every category?
It’s doubtful we will ever have a dilemma of #OscarSoBlack when it comes to Hollywood. But if the Academy can in just two short years make this much progress, then true equality is possible—that’s if Hollywood keeps working towards real diversity.