It is virtually impossible to imagine that 2017 will be another year of #OscarsSoWhite, and the evidence was everywhere over the past weekend.
On Friday, “Loving” opened to rave reviews and topped the indie box-office chart, with Ruth Negga winning particular acclaim for her role as a black woman whose marriage to a white man was deemed illegal in the 1950s.
That same day, “Hidden Figures” had its first early screenings and suggested that Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer will all be in the awards conversation this year.
On Saturday, Denzel Washington‘s “Fences” has its first Los Angeles screening, drawing huge ovations from a mostly SAG crowd and making Washington, Viola Davis and at least three of their co-stars serious Oscar contenders.
And on Sunday, strong numbers came in for the third week of “Moonlight,” which expanded to more theaters and continues to do well as one of the fall’s most acclaimed indie films.
Even with Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation” seeing its awards chances torpedoed by the controversy over Parker’s past, 2016 is clearly a year with a strong crop of high-profile films by African-American filmmakers (“Fences,” Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight”) and featuring awards-worthy non-white performers (Jeff Nicols’ “Loving,” Theodor Melfi’s “Hidden Figures” and the others).
The current consensus of Oscar pundits has Washington landing a Best Actor nomination and Negga a Best Actress one, with “Moonlight” stars Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris in the supporting categories, where Harris will also be joined by Davis.
And I would suggest that Jovan Adepo and Mykelti Williamson from “Fences” might well belong in that group, too.
Five black acting nominees would be the most since 2006, when Will Smith, Forest Whitaker, Djimon Honsou, Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson were all nominated, in a diverse crop of nominees that also included Spanish actress Penelope Cruz, Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi and Mexican actress Adriana Barraza. (Whitaker and Hudson won.)
If the diversity of the acting nominees hits a near-record level, it’ll be a mistake to paint it as nothing but a reaction to #OscarsSoWhite. All of these films were in the works before the outcry began, and all would be strong awards players in any year. In the 12 years before the two years of all-white nominees that prompted the protest, Oscar voters nominated non-white actors 11 times, with multiple non-white nominees eight of those 11.
Still, we may be getting ahead of ourselves, predicting that 20 percent or more of this year’s acting nominees may not be white. Last year, after all, when a colleague at TheWrap asked me if we should prep a pre-nominations story just in case there were no non-white acting nominees, I said that I just didn’t see how Idris Elba wouldn’t be nominated for “Beasts of No Nation,” and that Michael B. Jordan had a real shot for “Creed.”
I was wrong then — but especially after the events of the past weekend, I just don’t see how the Academy’s push for diversity doesn’t get a boost from a varied group of nominees next Jan. 24.
Here are the films and actors in the running to make this a year of #OscarsNotSoWhite:
Story: Barry Jenkins adapts Tarell McCraney’s play into a moving story of three stages in the life of a young gay black man,
Possible nominees: Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, Andre Holland.
Story: Denzel Washington directs and stars as a former Negro league baseball player in his adaptation of August Wilson’s 1987 Broadway drama.
Possible nominees: Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Mykelti Williamson, Jovan Adepo.
Story: Theodore Melfi’s film tells the true story of three African American women who made crucial contributions to the U.S. space program in the 1960s.
Possible nominees: Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae, Octavia Spencer.
Story: Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton star as Mildred and Richard Loving, who in 1967 went to the Supreme Court to overturn laws against interracial marriage.
Possible nominee: Ruth Negga.
Story: Based on Saroo Brierly’s book “A Long Way Home,” Garth Davis’ film stars Dev Patel as a young Indian man who uses Google Earth to locate the tiny village from which he was lost at the age of 5.
Possible nominee: Dev Patel.
“The Lion of Katwe”
Story: This crowd-pleasing Disney film directed by Mira Nair chronicles the life of the young Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi and her teacher Robert Katende.
Possible nominees: Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo.
“The Birth of a Nation”
Story: Nate Parker’s tale of the Nat Turner slave uprising may have been dealt a fatal blow in the awards picture, but it’s still powerful enough to retain an outside chance of some awards love, particularly for actress Aja Naomi King.
Possible nominee: Aja Naomi King.
Story: Director David Frankel’s drama focuses on a New York ad exec who, in the aftermath of a tragedy, writes letters to Love, Death and Time – and receives answers.
Possible nominee: Will Smith.