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Oscar Nominations Diversity: Asian Actors on the Rise, Black Lead Actresses Shut Out

One female DP made the cut in cinematography, but women were completely absent from the directing category

First, the good news: Asian actors had the best-ever showing in the 95th Oscar nominations, with Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu (all from “Everything Everywhere All at Once”) and Hong Chau (“The Whale”) repping one-fifth of the acting nominees this year. (Had “Triangle of Sadness” supporting actress Dolly De Leon made the cut in her category, the figure would have gone up to one-fourth.) Yeoh is the first Asian actress nominated in the leading category since Merle Oberon in 1935 for “The Dark Angel,” and she is the second-oldest Asian acting nominee after Youn Yuh-Jung, who won a supporting actress trophy in 2021 for “Minari”.

Brian Tyree Henry scored a surprise first Oscar nomination for his affecting turn in “Causeway,” Angela Bassett scored her first nod in 29 years for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” and Cuban-Spanish actress Ana de Armas scored one for “Blonde,” bringing the BiPOC acting nominations total to 7 out of 20 in the four performance categories, an improvement over last year. (The leading actor category is, alas, five white guys, much like supporting actor was last ceremony.)

It was, however, a bit of a heartbreaking morning for Black women other than Bassett, especially as “The Woman King” lead and director Viola Davis and Gina Prince-Bythewood came up empty (as did the film overall). Ditto for Danielle Deadwyler and her “Till” director Chinonye Chukwu.

The directing category featured a notable dearth of women (a step down after Jane Campion having won an Oscar in March for directing) besides Prince-Bythewood and Chukwu, including “Women Talking” helmer Sarah Polley (who is nominated for her screenplay) and “Aftersun” breakout Charlotte Wells, who won the directing prize for the National Society of Film Critics earlier this month.

However, the lineup includes co-director Daniel Kwan, who was also nominated for picture and screenplay, making him only the third Asian director to land the trifecta, after past and recent winners Bong Joon-ho (“Parasite”) and Chloe Zhao (“Nomadland”).

Asian representation stretched beyond the main categories this year, notably with Nobel Prize-winning novelist Kazuo Ishiguro earning a nomination for his “Living” screenplay (itself an adaptation of Asian master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s “Ikiru”), and in the animated feature category, “Turning Red” director Domee Shi marks the 10th consecutive year in which an Asian artist has been represented in this category.

And while women were shut out of the directing category this year, the cinematography lineup features its third ever female director of photography nominee, “Elvis” lenser Mandy Walker, who joins Rachel Morrison for “Mudbound” and Ari Wegner for “The Power of the Dog” as the only films with a nominated female DP. To date, a woman has not won this category.