WATCH: 5 black actors who should have won Oscars for these roles

This year, 6 black actors are nominated for Academy Awards. Let's salute those in the past who should have won

By D. Watkins

Editor at Large

Published February 22, 2017 12:00PM (EST)

Did Al Sharpton choose this year’s Academy Award nominees?

So many talented black actors, actresses, directors and writers have been looked over, snubbed and outright disrespected by the Academy Award selection committees over the last 89 years. For most of my childhood — until 1995 — the number of African-American actors and actresses who had won Academy Awards could be counted on one hand: Hattie McDaniel (1939, best supporting actress, "Gone With the Wind"), Sidney Poitier (1963, best actor, "Lilies of the Field"), Denzel Washington (1989, best supporting actor, "Glory"), Louis Gossett Jr. (1982, best supporting actor, "An Officer and a Gentleman") and Whoopi Goldberg (1990, best supporting actress, "Ghost").

We felt like the gold statue wasn’t made for black people. So I was raised to ignore the ceremony, and I wasn't alone. It was rare to see black and brown '80s and '90s babies running around excited about the Academy Awards. Many of the minorities in the industry felt the same, and last year a number of high-profile African-Americans even boycotted the ceremony, led by A-listers like Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee, over the academy's two-year streak of not nominating any actors of color.

The academy responded this year by nominating not one or two, but a record-breaking six black actors, for the four acting statues:

Denzel Washington ("Fences," actor)
Mahershala Ali ("Moonlight," supporting actor)
Ruth Negga ("Loving," actress)
Viola Davis ("Fences," supporting actress)
Naomie Harris ("Moonlight," supporting actress)
Octavia Spencer ("Hidden Figures," actress)

I thought I was looking at or a panel for some sort of Martin Luther King Day event panel when I first saw the nominations list. No, these actors were actually nominated for Oscars.

This is a huge step in the right direction for the academy, but what about all of those brilliant black artists who were snubbed over the years? Today we dedicate the Salon 5 to some of the best overlooked black performances in Hollywood’s history.

By D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a writer on the HBO limited series "We Own This City" and a professor at the University of Baltimore. Watkins is the author of the award-winning, New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America”, "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir," "Where Tomorrows Aren't Promised: A Memoir of Survival and Hope" as well as "We Speak For Ourselves: How Woke Culture Prohibits Progress." His new books, "Black Boy Smile: A Memoir in Moments," and "The Wire: A Complete Visual History" are out now.

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2017 Academy Awards Academy Awards Diversity Hollywood #oscarssowhite Race