So here we are; the big dance. The good news is that this year’s list of nominees is one of the most diverse we’ve seen in a very long time, with nominees of African descent in just about every *major* category; in some cases, there are multiple nominees of African descent in the same category.
The bad news is… actually, there really isn’t any bad news at this point, as far as this blog is concerned… at least, not yet. We’ll have much more to discuss after Sunday night’s festivities. In the meantime, here’s a short list of what we’ll be watching for during the Oscar ceremony, given this blog’s specific interests…
— A highlight this year is that, in the Best Documentary Feature category, 4 of the 5 nominees are filmmakers of African descent – a first in history in any category: “I Am Not Your Negro” (Raoul Peck), “Life Animated” (Roger Ross Williams), “O.J.: Made in America” (Ezra Edelman), and “13th” (Ava DuVernay). I think “I Am Not Your Negro” and “13th” probably have the upper-hand here. My prediction is that one of these 2 films (both incredibly timely given our current political climate) will win. You’ll find the full list of nominees in this category, below.
— Another highlight is that for Best Supporting Actress, 3 of the 5 are black actresses, including: Viola Davis (“Fences”), Naomie Harris (“Moonlight”) and Octavia Spencer (“Hidden Figures”). The last time more than 1 black actress was nominated in this category was in 2008 when, coincidentally, Viola Davis was also nominated (for “Doubt”) and Octavia Spencer’s “Hidden Figures” co-star Taraji P. Henson was nominated for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Neither Davis nor Henson won that year however. By all accounts, this year’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar is Viola Davis’ to lose, and I’d be surprised if she didn’t. This is her 3rd nomination; she’s never won an Oscar in any category. She will this year. Worth noting, she won both the SAG Award and the Golden Globe for “Fences” this year, as well as the BAFTA. It’s rare that a performance is rewarded in just about every other key award ceremony that doesn’t also win the Oscar. You’ll find the full list of nominees in this category, below.
— For Best Picture, “Hidden Figures,” “Fences,” and “Moonlight” are all nominated. This is the first time that 3 black films have been nominated in this category ever! And only once has a black film won Best Picture: Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” in 2013. I should also note that this marks the first Oscar nomination (“Fences”) for the late August Wilson who died 12 years ago. He won a Tony Award, and was nominated for an Emmy. This is a tough category, in part because there are 10 nominees instead of the usual 5 in other categories. And quite frankly, as many as half of them have a good chance to win, given previous wins, press and analyst predictions, overall buzz, the current political climate, and what’s won in the past. Before the SAG awards, it seemed like “Hidden Figures” was a long shot to win Best Picture; but after picking up the Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture at SAG – which seemed to surprise many – as well as its unexpected box office performance, it now appears to be a real contender for Best Picture; especially since it’s unlikely it’ll win in any of the other major categories that it’s nominated. It’s also an uplifting, crowd-pleasing film that puts the *forgotten* significant contributions of black women front and center, correcting history, if you will. And in the age of Trump and the so-called alt-right, and other white nationalists who claim that white people alone are responsible for every achievement that’s moved this country, and the world forward, a film like “Hidden Figures” firmly pushes back on that nonsense ideology. A similar case can be made for “Moonlight” which touches on a number of different topical issues that the Trump administration hasn’t made any genuine efforts to tackle, or shown any interest in. I think “Fences” is a long-shot. “Moonlight” and “Hidden Figures” have a better chance in this category; but “La La Land” seems to have the most momentum going into Sunday night. I’d love to see “Moonlight” or “Hidden Figures” win Best Picture, but I fear that “La La Land” will continue its award season dominance. You’ll find the full list of nominees in this category, below.
— Also of note, cinematographer Bradford Young picked up his first (about time!) Oscar nomination for his work on “Arrival.” This makes him only the 2nd DP of African descent to be nominated for an Oscar. Before him, Remi Adefarasin was nominated in 1998 for “Elizabeth.” He didn’t win though. So this is one key category still without a winner of African descent. Maybe that’ll change this year. Mr. Young has some tough competition though; anyone of the nominees in this category could win.
— Joi McMillon is the first black woman to be nominated in the Editing category for her work on “Moonlight” which she co-edited with Nat Sanders who is nominated along with her. She is also only the second editor of African descent to be nominated. The first was way back in 1969, when Hugh A. Robertson picked up a nomination for “Midnight Cowboy.” He didn’t win however. She (and Sanders) could win; but like the Cinematography category, any of the nominees listed below could win.
— And another highlight to watch is, no surprise, the much-loved “Moonlight,” which is nominated in 8 different categories, including all big ones: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali; I really think he’ll win this category; he’s the favorite; it’ll be his first if he does win) and Best Supporting Actress (Naomie Harris; I already said that I believe Davis will win this category). I should note that Barry Jenkins becomes only the 4th black director to be nominated for Best Director in Oscar history. Before him, John Singleton in 1991 for “Boyz n the Hood”; in 2009, Lee Daniels for “Precious”; and in 2013, Steve McQueen for “12 Years a Slave.” None of them won. Might Barry be the first black director to win the Best Director Oscar? I think he has a very good chance actually. Damien Chazelle won the Directors Guild Award (DGA) for “La La Land” which maybe gives him the upper hand here, along with the fact that “La La Land” has really dominated in categories it’s been nominated, throughout the awards season, much to the chagrin of many who believe it’s over-rated (I haven’t seen it; zero interest; so I can’t speak on its merits). But this is a category that will see either Chazelle or Jenkins win.
— The rest of the nominees are mostly as predicted: in the Best Actor category, Denzel Washington is nominated for “Fences” (Casey Affleck has had the hot hand in this category, so I expect that’ll continue); for Best Actress, Ruth Negga is nominated for “Loving” (she becomes only the 11th actress of African descent to be nominated in this category in the history of the Oscars; too much competition here and I don’t expect her to win either; but never say never); and “Tanna” is nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category (I think this is “Toni Erdmann’s” to lose, so no, I don’t expect “Tanna” to win).
— A milestone worth mentioning: Denzel Washington now has the most nominations for an African American Actor: Best Actor (5 nominations) and Best Supporting Actor (2 nominations).
Below are all the *major* categories in which black talent is nominated. See you Sunday night on twitter!