Not a single actor or actress of color received a nomination for an Academy Award in 2016, the second consecutive year in which this has happened. “#OscarsSoWhite,” a hashtag said to have been created by Broadway Black editor and former attorney April Reign, trended during the nomination season for two years in a row until the Academy broke expectations this January.
More actors and actresses of color received nominations this year than in any year in history, characterized by two lead role nominations and four for supporting roles. Nominees of color this year included Mahershala Ali for Moonlight and Denzel Washington for Fences.
In the United States, men and women of color historically receive 15 percent of leading film roles and make up 15 percent of Academy Award nominations. This would suggest that the lack of nominations for people of color in previous years is more representative of the industry itself rather than of the Academy.
Hollywood’s most noteworthy roles in 2015 and 2016, years where not one actor or actress of color received a nomination, were played by men and women of color: David Oyelowo, who played Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 2015’s Selma, and Idris Elba, who played the enigmatic Commandant in 2016’s Beasts of No Nation, among countless others like the men who portrayed N.W.A. in the group’s 2015 biopic Straight Outta Compton. These past injustices, then, would appear to lie not within the film industry itself, but within the academy. Last year, 76 percent of academy voters were men and over 90 percent were white.
This year’s record number of nominations of actors and actresses of color comes at a time of heightening social tensions. President Donald Trump’s inauguration ushered in a new epoch of nativist policy—or, in Trump’s own words, an “America First” era.
The White House recently banned nationals from a number of countries across parts of East Africa and the Middle East from entering the United States, a decision that sent shockwaves through the country and immediately left its mark on the entertainment world. News outlets first reported that Asghar Farhadi, an Iranian film director nominated for Best Foreign Language Film for his work directing The Salesman, may not be able to enter the country to attend the award ceremony that is scheduled to happen on Feb. 26. The following day, Farhadi released a statement saying that he was actively choosing not to attend the ceremony in protest of Trump’s immigration ban, arguing that the ban’s only purpose is to keep Muslims from entering the country.
The record number of actors and actresses of color who received nominations this year does certainly mark a welcome change, but does little to soften the blow that the new administration is dealing to the country’s socioeconomic landscape. Despite the progress made toward a more diverse Academy Awards ceremony this year, it will be difficult for the industry as a whole to make any lasting change so long as marginalized communities in the United States and beyond remain under threat.