January 15, 2015 11:51 am
Updated: January 15, 2015 7:05 pm

Oscars 2015: Black actors, directors shut out of race

Oprah Winfrey has become the first black female producer nominated for Best Picture but 'Selma' star David Oyelowo was snubbed as Best Actor.

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TORONTO — When the names of nominees for the 87th Academy Awards were read out early Thursday morning, there was an obvious lack of non-white actors and filmmakers.

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Ava DuVernay’s film Selma was nominated for Best Picture but she was snubbed in the Best Directing category. She would have been only the fourth black director to earn an Oscar nomination — and the first black woman.

A black filmmaker has never won Best Directing — and only three have ever been nominated.

The Selma nomination did make history, though. The Best Picture award is presented to a film’s producers, so Oprah Winfrey becomes the first black woman nominated in the category.

READ MORE: Who’s up for what at the Oscars

Last year, Steve McQueen became the first black producer to accept the Oscar for Best Picture.

In the acting categories this year, all of the 20 nominees are non-white.

Many film critics predicted David Oyelowo would earn a spot on the Best Actor list for his portrayal of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma. (Adding insult to injury, the nominations were announced on King’s birthday.)

The snub means there is no black Best Actor nominee for the first time in three years.

Denzel Washington and Halle Berry won top acting Oscars in 2001.

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Since 1958, only 13 black men have been nominated in the Best Actor category. Sidney Poitier was the first to be nominated (in 1958 for The Defiant Ones) and the first to win (in 1963 for Lilies in the Field).

Denzel Washington has had four nominations (he won in 2001 for Training Day); Morgan Freeman has been nominated three times; and Will Smith has had two nominations.

Jamie Foxx won Best Actor in 2004 for Ray and Forest Whitaker took the prize in 2007 for The Last King of Scotland.

Forest Whitaker won an Oscar in 2007.

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In the Best Supporting Actor category, only Louis Gossett, Jr. (An Officer and a Gentleman), Washington (Glory), Cuba Gooding, Jr. (Jerry Maguire) and Freeman (Million Dollar Baby) have given acceptance speeches on Oscar night.

This year marks the second in a row in which Oscar hasn’t had a black Best Actress nominee.

Dorothy Dandridge was the first black woman to be nominated for Best Actress (in 1954 for Carmen Jones) and nine others have followed.

Only Halle Berry has won.

“This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll,” an emotional Berry said when she won in 2001 for Monster’s Ball. “It’s for the women that stand beside me and it’s for every nameless, faceless woman of colour that now has a chance because this door has been opened.”

Nearly 20 black women have been nominated for Best Supporting Actress since 1939 and six have won: Hattie McDaniel, Whoopi Goldberg, Jennifer Hudson, Mo’Nique, Octavia Spencer and Lupita Nyong’o.

Lupita Nyong’o won an Oscar in 2014 for ’12 Years a Slave.’

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The Academy’s track record for nominating Asian actors is even worse. Ben Kingsley — who was born Krishna Pandit Bhanji — has been nominated twice for Best Actor (he won in 1982 for Gandhi) and twice for Best Supporting Actor.

Haing S. Ngor (The Killing Fields) is the only Asian to win Best Supporting Actor.

In fact, an Asian man hasn’t been nominated in an acting category since 2003, when both Kingsley and Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai) received nods.

Japan’s Miyoshi Umeki (Sayonara) is the only Asian woman to win Best Supporting Actress — which she did 57 years ago.

Of course, social media was quick to react to the lack of diversity. (Within hours of the nominations being announced, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was trending.)

So, why the lack of diversity at the Academy Awards when so many non-white actors and directors are doing work worthy of recognition?

The answer may lie within the Academy itself. According to a 2012 report in the Los Angeles Times, 94 per cent of Oscars voters are white. Only two per cent are black and two per cent are Latino.

BELOW: Watch the trailer for Selma, which is nominated for Best Picture.

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