Six black actors received nominations for awards at the Oscars this year, which is a record for the event. In 2015 and 2016, the Academy failed to nominate any black actors, a trend that spawned the widely spread hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. 2017 also ties the record for most minority actors in general — seven, last reached in 2007 — according to Variety.
The history of discrimination in entertainment spreads far beyond the reach of the Academy Awards. Unequal representation in Hollywood is a major issue, and leaves actors of color cast as stereotypes or in supporting roles. While several black men have had starring roles, women of color are frequently not cast as leads. Actors and actresses of Latino, Asian, Native American and other non-European backgrounds are represented even less in the film industry.
The social media uproar that fueled #OscarsSoWhite brought several issues to the forefront. Hollywood’s diversity problem is from the top-down. A 2015 study found that 94 percent of CEOs and 92 percent of senior managers in the film industry were white. Likewise, agencies are less likely to represent people of color. Only 12.2 percent of the minority film leads in 2013 were supported by major agencies. The most important issue is the lack of diversity in Academy voters. In 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that the voters for the awards were 94 percent white, 2 percent black and less than 2 percent Latino.
This year, the Academy appears to have changed its ways. There is an actor of color in all four acting categories for the first time, and the Academy Awards have also recognized talented black filmmakers in their selections. The Oscars are making history this year by picking these nominees:
– Denzel Washington for Fences. Washington is the most nominated black actor, receiving his seventh nomination this year.
– Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figure.
Best Supporting Actor:
– Mahershala Ali for Moonlight
Best Supporting Actress:
– Ruth Negga for Loving
– Viola Davis for Fences. Davis is the first black actress to receive three Oscar nominations.
– Naomie Harris for Moonlight
Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay: Barry Jenkins for Moonlight
Film Editing: Joi McMillon for Moonlight. McMillon is the first black woman to be nominated for editing.
Whether or not it signals long-term change in the Oscars, or helps to change the lack of diversity in Hollywood, it seems to be a new leaf turned this year for the Academy Awards.
Contact Assistant Arts Editor Stephanie Wood at Stephanie.A.Wood@Colorado.edu