[I originally posted this on my Facebook page today, January 14, 2016. Also, I know that I’m throwing around a lot of numbers below. I don’t want to clutter the page with the lists of nominees and winners that I am using to calculate these numbers, but would be happy to share them if people are interested.]
One of the most baffling and upsetting things about the lack of acting nominations for any actors of color at the past two Academy Awards (besides the obvious) is how the Oscars are not just maintaining a status quo, but are actually regressing on positive trends.
I did a bit of back-of-the-envelope math (so forgive any omissions or miscalculations here) about the numbers and percentages of actors of color who won and/or were nominated for Oscars last decade and this decade (thus far). Here’s how it broke down:
-Actors of Color Who Won Academy Awards for Acting: 10 (25% of winners that decade)
-Actors of Color Who Were Nominated for Academy Awards for Acting (includes those who eventually won): 38 (19% of nominees that decade)
[EDIT: I’m updating the total number and percentages from the 2000s to include the two nominations received by Ben Kingsley, an actor of English and Gujarati Indian descent. That I did not initially consider him an actor of color when running through the lists of past nominees speaks to the complex weave of factors — country of origin, roles played, public persona and media discourse, etc. — that constructs the legibility of non-white actors in the public eye, particularly to white viewers like myself. It also speaks to some of the limitations and problems of a number-counting post such as this.]
-Actors of Color Who Won Academy Awards for Acting: 2 (8.33% of winners this decade)
-Actors of Color Who Were Nominated for Academy Awards for Acting (includes those who eventually won): 10 (8.33% of nominees this decade)
So, the Academy (never a group historically known for its diverse choices in nominees and award recipients) was at least beginning to move in the direction of greater inclusivity and reach not that long ago. There were a couple of years in the 2000s where there were three actors of color nominated IN ONE CATEGORY! And now they’ve somehow managed to not find a single actor of color worthy of a nomination for two years running.
There’s a lot more to say about the politics of the Oscars and actors of color — which actors do get rewarded, for what roles, at what points in their career — but sheer numbers count too. And, after a time when things were beginning to look up, the Academy Awards seems to now be actively back-pedaling.
What a disgraceful state of affairs.
UPDATE: One more thing regarding this. I kept going back in time to see how many actors of color have been nominees and/or winners, stopping at 1980. Here are the similar numbers for the 1980s and 1990s:
-Actors of Color Who Won Academy Awards for Acting: 3 (7.5% of winners that decade)
-Actors of Color Who Were Nominated for Academy Awards for Acting (includes those who eventually won): 17 (8.5% of nominees that decade)
-Actors of Color Who Won Academy Awards for Acting: 5 (12.5% of winners that decade)
-Actors of Color Who Were Nominated for Academy Awards for Acting (includes those who eventually won): 19 (9.5% of nominees that decade)
Two things (amongst others) stand out to me from looking at these numbers:
1. The 2000s were truly a shift in the Academy Awards’ relationship to actors of color, at least when looking at the last 35 years. Regardless of your thoughts on the kinds of roles that were rewarded or the overall legitimacy of the Oscars themselves (and there’s a lot to say on both), going from somewhere between 17–19 nominations for actors of color per decade to 38 is quite significant — and, given the recent trends in Oscar nominations, perhaps not as lasting a trend as one might hope.
2. There have certainly been years prior to 2014 and 2015 in modern Oscar history where no actors of color received nominations: 1980, 1995, 1997. There were also many more years where a single nominee was an actor of color. However, 2014 and 2015 were the first time in at least 35 years that no actors of color were nominated two years running. Let that sink in for a moment.