How The Oscars Could Be Not So White Next Year
Another year, another round of Oscar speculation begins! Last year, none of the 20 acting nominations went to an actor of color. If you need a primer on why #OscarsSoWhite became a thing for the second year in a row, I would recommend catching up here.
To summarize, these honors matter because representation matters. Growing up in a country where most people do not look like you is hard enough. Doing so in a country where what is celebrated also doesn't look like you only compounds the issue. No less than Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs said, "our audiences are global and rich in diversity and every facet of our industry should be as well." Representation matters and hopefully Hollywood realizes this going forward.
To those who might argue that merit should decide these issues, I tend to agree, but when you look at last year's Best Actor race and some of the lackluster performances that made the cut, there is no reason a more diverse field couldn't also be a stronger field.
That said, let's look forward to the films with early buzz that could give us a more diverse Oscars this year. As with all things Oscar, things are likely to change, so I will order them from most to least likely.
The Birth of a Nation
Nate Parker - Set for a wide release on October 7 of this year, Nate Parker's passion project made headlines when Fox Searchlight Pictures purchased it for $17.5M out of the Sundance Film Festival in January. Parker wrote, stars in and directed the film, which chronicles Nat Turner's slave rebellion. Though the early critical reception has been mixed, expect to see this highlighted in several categories at next year's Oscars. A Best Actor nomination for Parker seems like a safe bet that this point.
Ruth Negga - Negga stars in this 1950s tale of an interracial couple jailed by the state of Virginia over their marriage. The case eventually made it to the Supreme Court (Loving v. Virginia) and forever changed marriage laws in the United States. Before this role, Negga appeared in 12 Years A Slave" and "World War Z." This would be her first Oscar nomination, but given the historical signifiance and the fact that the Academy loves actors playing real people, she has a solid shot at a Best Actress nod.
Octavia Spencer and Taraji P. Henson - In a stark departure from the roles Hollywood usually gives to black women (maids, slaves, etc.), these two are set to star in the historical account of black mathematicians who helped NASA send John Glenn into orbit in the 1960s. Neither of these ladies is new to the Oscar conversation, with Henson being nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her work in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Spencer winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her work in The Help. This film is still in pre-production at this point, but these two will likely get a lot of attention once the film is closer to reality. Henson is likely to be a contender for Best Actress, with Spencer likely being campaigned for Best Supporting Actress.
Naomie Harris, André Holland and Mahershala Ali - These three relatively fresh, though perhaps familiar, faces could figure prominently in the Oscar discussion. Naomie Harris (best known for roles in Pirates of the Caribbean and Skyfall), André Holland (best known for roles in Selma and 42) and Mahershala Ali (best known for roles in The Hunger Games and Netflix drama House of Cards) are set to star in Moonlight, the story of a young man coming of age during the War on Drugs and struggling with a decaying home life and his own sexuality. The film is said to challenge previous depictions of black male masculinity, so look for this to be a conversation starter if nothing else. Andre Holland and Naomie Harris are the two most likely to receive attention, with Harris getting a boost from being in multiple films on this list (see below).
Viola Davis and Denzel Washington - If I was sure this was going to be released year, these two would be at the top. Reprising their stage roles from this August Wilson classic, Viola Davis and Denzel Washington are teaming up to finally bring this story to the screen. With Washington set to direct and star, this is a surefire contender across the board whenever it is released. Both of these roles have won Tony Awards in the past, so it would be no surprise for Oscar to honor them. Besides the quality of the material, Davis is also considered overdue, with two previous nominations for her roles in Doubt and The Help. Given her recent success for her television work in ABC's How To Get Away With Murder, many predict she will win for her next nominated role.
While Washington is considered less 'due,' he is a two-time Oscar winner (Glory and Training Day) and six-time nominee, so he is always a threat to be in the conversation with the write role. Given his double duty on this film, expect his name to be everywhere once it is finally released.
Will Smith and Naomie Harris - Smith was famously absent from the Oscars this year after not being nominated for his work in Concussion. He will look to bounce back and regain his form as a two-time Oscar nominee (Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness). Harris's role here is likely smaller, but perhaps she could benefit from the Alicia Vikander treatment--the fresh face in so many relevant movies that she is recognized throughout the awards season. With Kate Winslet also in the cast, this film will likely have the pedigree to at least be considered as a part of the Oscar conversation.
While these nominations are less likely, it is still ridiculously early. Given that most of these films aren't even completed, there is plenty of time for something or someone to be better or worse than anticipated. Keep these names in mind as the calendar starts to change.
David Oyelowo - A United Kingdom: After being overlooked for his work in Selma, Oyelowo plays one half of an interracial relationship in this UK based drama.
Shohre Aghdashloo and Oscar Isaac - The Promise: This is the story of a love triangle set during the Ottoman Empire. Aghdashloo is a previous Oscar nominee (House of Sand and Fog) and Isaac is considered overdue by many given his recent run of stellar performances (e.g., Inside Llewyn Davis and Ex Machina). Even if this is not the year for Isaac, his time will come very soon.
Dev Patel Lion: Patel is widely recognized for his role in Best Picture winner Slumdog Millionaire, but this would be his first Oscar nomination. Lion tells the story of an Indian boy adopted by an Australian couple, and sets out to find his birth-family when he reaches adulthood.
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