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Saturday, January 14, 2017
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Oscars 2017: Will #OscarsSoWhite End By Seeing Record Number of Non-White Wins in Acting Categories?

Denzel Washington and Halle Berry at the Oscars in 2002 (Courtesy: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Denzel Washington and Halle Berry at the 2002 Oscars (Courtesy: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

By: Carson Blackwelder
Managing Editor

After two years of criticism it seems as though the #OscarsSoWhite controversy could become a thing the past should all the stars align. That’s because there’s a big chance actors and actresses of color could win in three out of the four acting categories — with others scoring nominations. Not only is this a change from recent events, but it could potentially be the biggest breakthrough for minorities in the history of the Oscars.

The folks looking — and predicted by many critics — to score wins at the 2017 ceremony are two-time winner Denzel Washington (Fences) for best actor, former nominee Viola Davis (Fences) for best supporting actress, and Oscar newcomer Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) for best supporting actor. Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter lists these three talents as frontrunners in their respective categories and awards season thus far indicates they’re locks, too.

For those of you who need a refresher on #OscarsSoWhite, it’s the term given to the public dialogue surrounding both of the past two Oscar ceremonies where the Academy failed to recognize actors and actresses of color in the four acting categories. The reason for outrage? Well, in addition to worthy films about people of color getting shut out of Hollywood’s stage, it means that out of 40 slots — 20 per year — zero went to non-White thespians.

We’ve already given you a handy rundown of every nomination of a non-white actor and actress since the year 2000 in the anticipation that the 2017 ceremony could be one of — if not the — most diverse Oscars in history. That data showed that 40 different minorities have been recognized by the Academy since the turn of the turn of the millennium. That seems encouraging for this year’s talented non-white potential nominations but doesn’t exactly boost their chances of winning except for the fact that there has never been three minority winners in one year.

Let’s look specifically at black actors and actresses in the acting categories for a moment, shall we? That’s just one minority group that we can look through the lense of in this case and we’re choosing that because most of the conflict about #OscarsSoWhite has stemmed from them. So how often exactly have multiple wins — two or three in the same year — happened? There have been zero years in Oscar history in which three or more acting awards went to black actors and actresses, just to get that out of the way. There are, on the other hand, three years in which there were two wins.

The first came at the 2002 ceremony when Washington took home best actor for Training Day while Halle Berry took home best actress for Monster’s Ball. The next occurrence was at the 2005 ceremony when Jamie Foxx took home best actor for Ray and Morgan Freeman took home best supporting actor for Million Dollar Baby. The most recent time this happened was at the 2007 ceremony when Forest Whitaker took home best actor for The Last King of Scotland and Jennifer Hudson took home best supporting actress for Dreamgirls. Who would have thought the first decade of the millennium was so progressive?

Having three out of four acting categories go to non-white actors and actresses this year could easily not happen, too. Washington is the only non-white actor nominated for best actor — with no others considered by Feinberg to be in the realm of possibilities. Ali has Dev Patel (Lion) in the frontrunners group for best supporting category as an alternative non-white choice and Davis has Naomie Harris (Moonlight) among the frontrunners as a non-white fallback in the best supporting actress category. The only place we’re not seeing non-white thespians in the frontrunner and major threat groups is the best actress category.

Could something happen to where we only get two non-white winners this year? Sure, but it’s very likely that we could see — and maybe should expect — to have at least two non-white winners. It’s clear that having three would be setting a new record but, with all the #OscarsSoWhite dialogue we’ve been having for the past few years, it would certainly be a welcome record to see.

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  • OscarGeek

    While reasonable people applaud developments like this, we should also remember that one daffodil doesn’t mean it’s spring. The victory is when there is such a wide range of races/nationalities/religions/genders/orientations etc that we don’t even need to note demographics like this. It should be as odd as cataloguing how many blondes, left handed or brown eyed nominees there were this year. BUT we have to acknowledge the small wins to encourage progress without using a battle win to call a victory in the war.