It’s been less than four years since #OscarsSoWhite became a hot topic at the Academy Awards after 2015 films like “Creed” and “Straight Outta Compton” failed to land major nominations for people of color. (It actually began the year before but picked up steam when, for the second year in a row, no people of color were recognized in any of the acting categories.) In the time since, the Academy has made conscious efforts to diversify the voting body; the governing body voted unanimously to double female and minority members by 2020. And risk-averse Hollywood seems to finally be learning that telling stories where the characters represent the real world can pay off — take the success this year of “Crazy Rich Asians,” “Black Panther” and “BlacKkKlansman,” just to name a few.
This year saw many wonderful performances by actors of color in all categories. The always amazing Viola Davis led a quartet of tough ladies in “Widows,” while newcomer KiKi Layne was a marvelous discovery as an unwed pregnant girl in “If Beale Street Could Talk.” “Roma’s” Yalitza Aparico is another newcomer — this is her first acting gig ever — but she displayed the talent of some actors with twice as much experience in Alfonso Cuaron’s autobiographical pic. Though only 20 years old, Amandla Stenberg is hardly new to the business; still, she leads “The Hate U Give” with a steady hand. Her mother in that film, Regina Hall, has picked up some awards buzz thanks to a NYFCC best actress win and nominations from The Gotham and Independent Spirit Awards for her turn in “Support the Girls.”
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The actor race could see several performers land attention for their breakthrough turns: John David Washington struck a perfect tone in “BlacKkKlansman” while Chadwick Boseman proved himself a star in “Black Panther.” Rami Malek and Lin-Manuel Miranda charmed with musical turns in “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Mary Poppins Returns,” respectively. On the indie scene, Stephan James (“If Beale Street Could Talk”), LaKeith Stanfield (“Sorry to Bother You”), Daveed Diggs (“Blindspotting”) and John Cho (“Searching”) all proved compelling leads.
The supporting categories look to offer more sure things in the way of nominations: Regina King (“Beale Street”) and Mahershala Ali (“Green Book”) are considered locks, if not frontrunners for their turns. Supporting actress could also see a pair of tough matriarchs recognized with Michelle Yeoh in “Crazy Rich Asians” and Marina de Tavira in “Roma.” There’s also three women of “Black Panther” — Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright and Danai Gurira — to contend with, and a pair of supporting “Widows” in Michelle Rodriguez and Cynthia Erivo. On the actor side, Michael B. Jordan could likely land his first nom for his role in “Black Panther,” while a strong case can be made for other actors like Daniel Kaluuya (“Widows”), Brian Tyree Henry (“If Beale Street Could Talk”), Russell Hornsby (“The Hate U Give”) and Raul Castillo (“We the Animals.”)
Behind the camera, there’s a strong chance there will be more than one African-American director nominated with Spike Lee (“BlacKkKlansman”) and Ryan Coogler (“Black Panther”) looking more and more likely. Alfonso Cuaron seems a lock for “Roma,” while Barry Jenkins is making a strong case with “Beale Street.” It’s also been a great year for women behind the camera, from Marielle Heller’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” to Chloe Zhao’s “The Rider” to Debra Granik’s “Leave No Trace” garnering excellent buzz.
It remains to be seen how things will pan out when the nominations are announced Jan. 22, but when there are so many excellent films showcasing such a wide range of talented people, it seems everybody wins.