When the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences failed to nominate any actors of color earlier this year (for the second year in a row, no less) many people were understandably upset at the lack of diversity on display. Celebrities called for a boycott of the Oscar ceremony and the popular hashtag #OscarsSoWhite — coined for 2015's batch of all-white nominees — made a resurgence. But while it certainly may be true that voters could stand to take more notice of performances by non-white actors, it's also true that Academy members can't nominated movies and performances that don't exist… and that the issue of diversity starts much deeper within Hollywood than the Oscars themselves. Fortunately, it looks like progress is being made and that a three-peat of #OscarsSoWhite will be avoided thanks to a remarkably diverse slate of 2017 Oscar contenders.
Although many prognosticators thought that Idris Elba might land his first Oscar nomination last year for Beasts Of No Nation, he ultimately didn't make the cut. But he was also the only non-white actor even in serious consideration; names like Creed's Michael B. Jordan and Straight Outta Compton's Corey Hawkins were bandied about but never gained much steam. The fact that all it took to bring about a second year of #OscarsSoWhite was one specific snub shows that the Academy was given a dearth of diverse options to choose from last year.
Fortunately, that doesn't seem like it will be a problem for the 2017 ceremony, thanks to the following nine films:
1. The Birth Of A Nation
What it's about: A retelling of the 1831 Nat Turner slave rebellion that was written, directed, and starred in by Nate Parker (Beyond The Lights), and sold for a record-breaking $17.5 million at this year's Sundance Film Festival. It's an important story of black lives in America that deserves to be told — unfortunately complicated by revelations about Parker's own past.
Possible noms: Best Picture; Best Director (Nate Parker); Best Actor (Nate Parker); Best Supporting Actor (Armie Hammer); Best Supporting Actress (Aja Naomi King); Best Original Screenplay
2. Collateral Beauty
What it's about: Two-time Oscar nominee Will Smith stars as a man coping with a terrible loss by writing letters to the personifications of time, love, and death… which then literally personify into actors Jacob Latimore, Keira Knightley, and Helen Mirren, respectively. A new It's A Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol for the modern generation.
Possible noms: Best Actor (Will Smith); Best Supporting Actress (Keira Knightley); Best Supporting Actress (Helen Mirren); Best Supporting Actress (Kate Winslet)
What it's about: An adaptation of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play starring two-time Oscar-winner Denzel Washington and two-time nominee Viola Davis, who are reprising the roles that won them both Tonys in the 2010 Broadway revival. Washington is also taking over directing duties this time around.
Possible noms: Best Picture; Best Director (Denzel Washington); Best Actor (Denzel Washington); Best Actress (Viola Davis); Best Supporting Actor (Stephen Henderson); Best Adapted Screenplay
4. Hidden Figures
What it's about: Empire star and Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson stars alongside recent Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) as well as R&B singer Janelle Monáe as a trio of real-life NASA mathematicians who helped put the first man into orbit and another man on the moon back in the 1960s.
Possible noms: Best Picture; Best Actress (Taraji P. Henson); Best Supporting Actress (Janelle Monáe); Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer)
What it's about: Based on the true story of Saroo Brierley (played by Dev Patel of the Best Picture-winning Slumdog Millionaire), who was adopted by an Australian couple after he became separated from his family when he was a young boy. When he grows up, he embarks on a quest to find his birth family using Google Earth as his primary tool.
Possible noms: Best Picture; Best Director (Garth Davis); Best Actor (Dev Patel); Best Supporting Actress (Nicole Kidman); Best Supporting Actress (Rooney Mara); Best Adapted Screenplay
What it's about: This drama gets its name from the landmark Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia — a suit brought by Richard and Mildred Loving after they were jailed for the crime of being an interracial couple in the South in the 1960s. The ruling abolished all anti-miscegenation laws countrywide and would eventually serve as a precedent in the Court's Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which legalized gay marriage last year.
Possible noms: Best Picture; Best Director (Jeff Nichols); Best Actor (Joel Edgerton); Best Actress (Ruth Negga); Best Original Screenplay
What it's about: The coming-of-age story of a young black man grappling with his sexuality in a hyper-masculinized culture, as told in three distinct chapters of his life. Co-starring Naomie Harris (Skyfall) as the boy's troubled mother and Mahershala Ali (House Of Cards) as his fearsome father figure, Moonlight could be the acclaimed indie gem that breaks into the Picture, Directing, and Acting categories like Room last year or Beasts Of The Southern Wild before it.
Possible noms: Best Picture; Best Director (Barry Jenkins); Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali); Best Supporting Actress (Naomie Harris); Best Original Screenplay
8. Mr. Church
What it's about: Ten years after he landed his first nomination for his supporting role in Dreamgirls, Eddie Murphy is looking to get back into the Oscar race with this drama from Driving Miss Daisy director Bruce Beresford. Murphy stars in the title role as a man hired to help take care of a young girl after her mother is diagnosed with cancer — although the actor will actually be angling to land in the less competitive Supporting Actor category.
Possible noms: Best Supporting Actor (Eddie Murphy)
What it's about: A passion project for Martin Scorsese, who has been working on getting it made since 1991, this film is based on the 1966 novel by Shusaku Endo about Jesuit missionaries in 17th Japan. A nomination for Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano, who plays the missionaries' interpreter, would mean a lot for a demographic typically even less represented at the Oscars than African-Americans.
Possible noms: Best Picture; Best Director (Martin Scorsese); Best Actor (Andrew Garfield); Best Supporting Actor (Tadanobu Asano); Best Supporting Actor (Adam Driver); Best Supporting Actor (Liam Neeson)
The strides that have been made this year in racial diversity are undeniably laudable; even if only a small percentage of the films and actors listed here earn nominations, there's still a chance we could wind up with a non-white performer in each of the four Acting categories at the 2017 ceremony. Take that, #OscarsSoWhite!
Images: A24; Paramount Pictures (2)