Academy Awards Barely Escape a Reprise of #OscarsSoWhite

Until Issa Rae and John Cho announced “Harriet” star Cynthia Erivo as a nominee for best actress for the 92nd Academy Awards, it was looking increasingly likely that the Oscars were heading for a repeat of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy that drove the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences four years ago to aggressively begin diversifying its membership.

Instead, Erivo saved the Academy from the embarrassment of yet another slate of all-white acting nominees — but just barely.

This year’s Oscar nominations for acting still managed to shut out a wealth of highly regarded performances by actors of color who did earn nominations for several other lead-up awards.

Those include Awkwafina in “The Farewell” (best actress winner at the Golden Globes and nominee at the Critics’ Choice Awards), Jennifer Lopez in “Hustlers” (best supporting actress nominee at the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice Awards, SAG Awards and Independent Spirit Awards), Eddie Murphy in “Dolemite Is My Name” (best actor nominee at the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards), Zhao Shuzhen in “The Farewell” (best supporting actress nominee at the Critics’ Choice Awards and Independent Spirit Awards), Lupita Nyong’o in “Us” (best actress nominee at the SAG Awards), Alfre Woodard in “Clemency” (best actress nominee at the Independent Spirit Awards) and Jamie Foxx in “Just Mercy” (best supporting actor nominee at the SAG Awards). Some awards pundits had also pegged Song Kang-ho in “Parasite” as a potential surprise Oscar nominee for best supporting actor.

The Academy membership almost followed in the footsteps of the BAFTA Film Awards, which nominated an all-white slate of acting nominees for this year’s ceremony — a move Marc Samuelson, the chair of BAFTA’s film committee, called “infuriating.” Samuelson subsequently announced a “careful and detailed review” of the BAFTA Film Awards’ voting process, but Erivo declined an invitation to sing at the ceremony.

“The reason I didn’t perform is because I don’t think it’s proper representation, as a woman of color, of people of color in this industry,” she told Variety on Jan. 9 about her decision to sit out the BAFTAs. “Let’s see how (the review) does, whether it affects next year or the year after, who knows, but I definitely think it’s time for change, we can’t overlook it any more.”

The Academy underwent similar soul-searching — and transformation — after back-to-back years of all-white acting nominees for the 2015 and 2016 awards ceremonies. Shortly after the 2016 nominations, then-Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs announced sweeping changes to membership and voting rules, and a concerted effort to increase the number of women and people of color among the Academy membership.

Those efforts doubled the percentage of people of color within the Academy in just four years, from 8% in 2015 to 16% in 2019.

Given Monday’s nomination announcement, it’s clear that the Academy’s recent efforts to make its voting base more inclusive aren’t enough for the organization to recognize a diverse array of filmmaking talent.

Erivo, however, is a double Oscar nominee this year — she also earned an Oscar nod, with Joshuah Brian Campbell, for best original song for “Stand Up” from “Harriet.” So it appears, at least, that the Oscars will get the benefit of Erivo’s peerless voice at its ceremony.

More Film

  • Alison Brie - Variety's Actors on

    Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza Join Kristen Stewart's Romantic Comedy 'Happiest Season'

    Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Victor Garber, Dan Levy and Mary Steenburgen have been cast in “Happiest Season,” a romantic comedy starring Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis. The TriStar Pictures film, from director Clea DuVall, will debut in theaters on Nov. 20. “Happiest Season” follows Stewart’s character, who is planning to propose to her girlfriend (Davis) [...]

  • Taylor Swift Trailer Miss Americana Netflix

    Taylor Swift Gets Political in 'Miss Americana' Documentary Trailer

    “I feel really really good about not being muzzled anymore, and it was my own doing,” Taylor Swift reveals in the first trailer for her Netflix documentary, “Miss Americana.” The singer and songwriter gets candid in behind-the-scenes footage, saying, “Throughout my whole career label executives would just say: ‘A nice girl doesn’t force their opinions [...]

  • Quentin Tarantino, Walter Hill and Heywood

    Quentin Tarantino Celebrates Art of Screenwriting at Final Draft Awards

    Quentin Tarantino celebrated the art of screenwriting during his induction into the Final Draft Hall of Fame Tuesday night at the Paramount Theatre in Hollywood. The clearly delighted Tarantino, who scored Oscar nominations for writing, directing and producing “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” revealed filmmaker Walter Hill was his inspiration to become a screenwriter. [...]

  • The Gentleman Bad Boys for Life

    Box Office: 'The Gentlemen' Takes on 'Bad Boys for Life'

    It will be a battle of the boys at the box office this weekend as STX’s action drama “The Gentlemen” takes on reigning champs, Sony’s “Bad Boys for Life.” “Bad Boys for Life,” the third installment in the Will Smith and Martin Lawrence-led franchise, beat expectations over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, bringing in [...]

  • Ben Roberts BFI

    British Film Institute Says Change 'Too Slow' As It Releases Findings of Diversity Report

    The British Film Institute (BFI) has published its initial findings on how film productions in the U.K. have applied its “Diversity Standards,” a framework introduced in 2016 to address underrepresentation in the country’s film and TV industries. The standards cover several aspects of diversity including gender, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, gender reassignment, age [...]

  • Brand Storytelling 2020 Sundance

    Sundance 2020: Brand Storytelling Lineup Set for 5th Annual Media and Marketing Event

    Brand Storytelling is returning to Park City this year to host its fifth annual media and marketing event at the Sundance Film Festival, with a lineup of keynotes, panels, screenings, music performances and more. Launched in 2016, the company’s “festival within a festival” at Sundance will again bring together execs from major brands with media [...]

  • Terry Jones Dead: Director of Monty

    Terry Jones, Monty Python Co-Founder, Dies at 77

    Terry Jones, co-founder of Monty Python, died Wednesday after a long struggle with dementia. He was 77. Jones was instrumental in creating the wacky, absurdist style of comedy that Monty Python made famous in the 1970s and directed two of the English comedy group’s most successful films, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and “Monty [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content