The Oscar nominations were released today, and the nominated actors and actresses look different than they did last year and the year before. Mahershala Ali, Dev Patel, Naomie Harris, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Ruth Negga and Denzel Washington all received acting nominations. “Moonlight,” “Fences” and “Hidden Figures” received best picture nominations. So, no more are the #OscarsSoWhite?
Well, yes in the sense that there were not zero nonwhite actors or actresses nominated in the top four categories for the third straight year. The seven nominations that went to nonwhite actors and actresses set an Oscars record. The academy clearly heard last year’s protests and was determined to not let the snubbing continue.
The record-setting year signals that Hollywood is at least listening to diversity-based criticism — or that the academy’s PR wing is listening anyway. But don’t be fooled; Hollywood is only incrementally less white than last year. The overwhelming majority of writers, directors, studio executives and academy voters are white men, and the overwhelming majority of actors and actresses are white. Most of these positions are entrenched and will take years and purposeful action — more than hashtags — to remedy.
And the bigger problem remains just as glaring: A large segment of Americans’ stories aren’t being represented in film. Dev Patel, who is South Asian, was the only nonblack actor of color to receive a nomination this year. The Oscars may not be so white this year, but they are still not so Hispanic or Asian — and, really, they are still pretty frickin’ white (“La La Land” set a record with 14 nominations).
The academy does not deserve any pats on the back for surpassing a low bar of inclusion with this year’s nominations, but it does deserve credit for taste. Its selections mostly aligned with the picks of critics. “Deadpool,” notably, did not receive a Best Picture nomination, despite a clever Twitter campaign. Ruth Negga was awarded for an understated performance in “Loving.”
Still, the real test for this year’s Oscars will come on Feb. 26, when the ceremony is held and the winners are announced. Setting a record for nonwhite nominations is a hollow accomplishment if none of the nonwhite nominees receive an award. That seems unlikely given that Viola Davis is in the Best Supporting Actress category, but the Oscars awards have disappointed before.