Oscars: Record Six Black Actors Nominated, Diversity Improves After Last Year's #OscarsSoWhite

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in 'Fences' (Photo: Paramount)
Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in ‘Fences’ (Photo: Paramount)

Jenelle Riley, Variety

After last year’s nominations spawned #OscarsSoWhite, all eyes were on the Academy Award nominations Tuesday – and in stark contrast to 2016, this year proved to be a much stronger year for diversity, both in front of and behind the camera.

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While no actors of color were nominated the last two years, this year saw every acting category recognizing a person of color. A record-tying (with 2007) seven minority actors were recognized, including a record-setting six black actors.

In best actor, Denzel Washington landed his seventh nomination for Fences, extending his record as the most nominated black actor. His co-star Viola Davis was nominated in supporting actress, which also saw Davis’ The Help co-star Octavia Spencer nominated for Hidden Figures and Naomie Harris for Moonlight. With three nods, Davis is now the most nominated black actress.

In the lead actress category, Ruth Negga was nominated for her work in Loving. And in supporting actor, Mahershala Ali landed a nom for Moonlight. Also recognized in supporting actor was Dev Patel, a British actor of Indian descent, for Lion.

However, these films were already in production last year, and it could take several years to radically change course in response to last year’s controversy.

Related: Oscar Nominations: Complete List

But it didn’t just stop with the acting; many prominent categories also recognized people of color. With Manchester by the Sea nominated for best picture, Kimberly Steward is only the second black female to be nominated for producing — the first was none other than Oprah Winfrey for Selma. Variety profiled the up-and-coming producer in April.

As writer-director of Moonlight, Barry Jenkins found himself the fourth black best director nominee, after John Singleton, Lee Daniels, and Steve McQueen. His writing nomination, shared with playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, made them the seventh and eighth black men nominated for screenplay. And Jenkins is only the second black writer-director to find himself nominated for both categories, after Singleton. Also notable in the writing category is the late August Wilson, the prominent black playwright whose adaptation of Fences made the cut.

Related: Oscar Nominations: 12 Biggest Snubs and Surprises

The documentary feature category was made up almost entirely of people of color — Ava DuVernay (13th), Raoul Peck (I Am Not Your Negro), Ezra Edelman (O.J.: Made in America), and Roger Ross Williams (Life, Animated). Previously, there have only been three black directors nominated in the category, and DuVernay marks the first black woman.

Other notable noms include: Bradford Young for his cinematography of Arrival, only the second black nominee ever after Remi Adefarasin for Elizabeth. And with her editing nomination for Moonlight, Joi McMillon became the first black female nominee in the category, and second black nominee after Hugh A. Robertson for Midnight Cowboy. In the same category is La La Land editor Tom Cross, who is half-Asian; two years ago, Cross won in the category for Whiplash. And Lin-Manuel Miranda, the American-born artist who is primarily of Puerto Rican descent, could find himself EGOT-ing this year with his best song nomination for Moana.

The nominations earned praise from the African American Film Critics Association; AAFCA President Gil Robertson IV stated, “The African American Film Critics Association is totally thrilled with the record-breaking number of nominations earned this year by actors and other creative artists of color. AAFCA applauds the Academy’s efforts and we hope that their progress continues to reflect America’s rich diversity.”

Related: Oscars: ‘La La Land’ Ties All-Time Record With 14 Nominations

While the nominations brought good news for people of color, there are still strides to be made when it comes to female nominees. Once again, women were shut out of the best director category and of the 10 nominated screenplays, Hidden Figures co-writer Allison Schroeder was the only woman nominated. And after all these years, a woman has yet to be nominated in the cinematography category.

Producers fared better; in addition to Steward, female producers who saw their films up for best picture include Carla Hacken and Julie Yorn (Hell or High Water), Adele Romanski and Dede Gardner (Moonlight), Donna Gigliotti and Jenno Topping (Hidden Figures), and Angie Fielder (Lion).

The Academy Awards will air Feb. 26 on ABC.

Related: Oscars: ‘La La Land’ Ties All-Time Record With 14 Nominations

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