The Academy Awards are fast approaching and are scheduled to take place on Sunday, March 12th, 2023 at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. This year marks the 95th anniversary of the historic awards show, and nominees were recently announced. Among some notable films this year in which are nominated for Best Picture include; “Elvis”, “Avator: The Way of Water”, “The Banshees of Inisherin”,“Top Gun Maverick”, “Triangle of Sadness”, “Women Talking”, “Everything Everywhere All at Once”, “The Fabelmans”, “All Quiet on the Western Front”, and “Tár.” This year there is also a notable group of talented BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) actors and actresses that have been nominated in various categories.
Historically, minorities have scarcely been nominated for Oscars, which showcases the lack of diversity from The Academy. The Academy organization itself prides itself on rewarding the best in the Motion Picture Industry, but when examining past accolades for people of color, statistics remain extremely low in rewarding them for their work in the film industry. In this past decade alone, 89% of nominations went to white nominees, and a majority at 71.1% of nominations going to men, (Insider). Before we dive into more depth of this year’s nominations, let’s take a look back at past Oscar winners and how they broke barriers for people of color. In 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American to win an Oscar for her role as “Mammy” in the 1939 technicolor film “Gone With The Wind”, which featured legendary actor Clarke Gable, and actress Vivian Leigh.
The film in itself was also met with controversy within the black community, due to the depiction of racism and black slaves living in the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction era. McDaniel along with other black cast members were unable to attend the premier of the film in December 1939 in Atlanta, Georgia due to segregation and Jim Crow Laws enacted during that time and specifically because the venue was a “white’s only” theater at Loew’s Grand Theatre. However, she was able to attend the Hollywood premiere of the film, and the Academy Awards just a few months later in February 1940. At the awards themselves, McDaniel was unable to celebrate with or sit near her white co-stars and was seated near the back, (Black History). Nonetheless, she was awarded for her role and won for “Best Supporting Actress” which was a milestone for the black community. McDaniel continued acting but in the same stereotypical roles going forward due to limitations for people of color during that time.
About a decade later in 1950, Jose Ferrer became the first Latino actor to be nominated and win for “Best Actor” for his role in the film “Cyrano de Bergerac.” Latino actors have mostly been overlooked by the Academy as well, with Edward James Olmos being the first U.S born Latino to ever be nominated for Best Actor for the film “Stand and Deliver,” in 1988. Puerto Rican born Jose Ferrer and Mexican-born Anthony Quinn have both been recipients of Oscars and the few to ever be nominated, let alone win. Till this day, Rita Moreno continues to be the only Latina actress to ever win an Academy Award, in which she won for Best Supporting Actress, for “West Side Story”, and so far no Latina has ever won in the Best Actress category. That being said, Mexican directors have notably received awards for Best Director in recent years including Alejandro González Iñárritu who won consecutively in 2014 and 2015, and Alfonso Cuarón who won both in 2013 and 2018.
Latinos have received less accolades even more so for their work and less nominations. African-Americans have been able to receive few but more historically significant awards such as Sidney Potier who became the first black actor to win for Best Actor for the 1963 film “Lillies of the Field,” and Denzel Washington and Halle Berry who both won for their lead roles at the 2002 Academy Awards. Berry has been the only Black woman to win for Best Actress, and there have been 9 Black actresses to win in the Best Supporting Actress category. More recently, critically acclaimed actress Viola Davis won for Best Supporting Actress at the 2017 Oscars for her role in the film “Fences,” and Will Smith won for Best Actor at last year’s awards show.
Although progress has been significant over the years with more BIPOC winning in categories, there are still limitations and lack of representation at the awards, but some small strides this year have been significant specifically for the Asian community. This year, there is a total of 4 actors/actresses of Asian descent included as nominees. Chinese-Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh has become the first of Southeast Asian descent to ever be nominated for Best Actress for her role in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” This is certainly a historic nomination and will be even more so if she wins. In the film, she plays a Chinese-American immigrant who owns a laundry business on the verge of being audited by the IRS. The film is filled with unexpected adventures and features other prominent actors of Asian descent as well. Yeoh has also been featured in other films such as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and “Crazy Rich Asians.”
In the category of “Best Supporting Actress” there are three BIPOC women including the iconic Angela Bassett who is of African-American descent, Vietnamese-American actress Hong Chau, and Chinese-American actress Stephanie Hsu. These nominations are a great representation of the diverse talent that exists in the film industry, and inspiration for aspiring actresses of color.
Speaking of inspiring actresses of color, Angela Bassett has been around for decades and is quite the accomplished actress. She plays the role of “Queen Ramonda” in the film “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” based on the Marvel Comics. She recently won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for this role, and made history by becoming the first to ever be nominated for an Academy Award for a role in a marvel comic film. This is her second Academy Award nomination, and she has also been the recipient of seven Emmy Awards, and multiple other awards.
Vietnamese actress Hong Chau has been nominated for her role in the psychological drama film “The Whale,” in which she plays the role of Liz, a nurse who takes care of a morbidly obese recluse English professor Charlie, played by Brendan Fraser. Chau was born in Thailand after her parents fled Vietnam, and was raised in New Orleans after subsequently being taken in by a family who provided sponsorship to her family. She has also been featured in multiple TV series, and films such as 2017’s “Downsizing.”
Chinese-American actress Stephanie Hsu is nominated for her role as Joy Wang, the daughter of main character Evelyn Wang (played by best actress nominee Michelle Yeoh) in the film “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” and rounds out the three female actresses of Asian-descent in nominations.
In the category for “Best Supporting Actor”, there are two BIPOC nominees this year. Black-American actor Brian Tyree Henry is nominated for his role in the film “Causeway” where he plays the part of James Aucoin, who suffers from mental trauma after an accident. Henry has received multiple award nominations and was a fixture on the TV series “Atlanta” for six years. Vietnamese-American actor Ke Huy Quan has also been nominated for an Academy Award this year for his role as Waymong Wong in the comedy drama film “Everything Everywhere All at Once” where he plays the husband to Michelle Yeoh character “Evelyn Wang.” The film has taken on many nominations this year, including for “Best Director” for Chinese-American Daniel Kwan, along with his co-director Daniel Scheinert.
Another notable mention for nominees includes Spanish/Cuban actress Ana de Armas for her portrayal as the iconic Marilyn Monroe featured in the original Netflix film “Blonde”, which showcases the darker side to Monroe’s life. The film was based on the novel “Blonde” by author Joyce Carol Oates. The film was met with controversy as it portrayed Monroe in cringe worthy and abusive situations at the hands of entertainment industry moguls, and also explores her emotional unstableness and breakdowns in her life and career.
Overall the BIPOC community continues to make strides in the film industry despite limitations. Looking back through the decades of nominees and winners, it is truly astounding to witness the changes, progress, and pioneers who broke barriers and made it possible for people of color to make it in the motion picture industry. Tune in March 12th on ABC to witness all the talented and groundbreaking nominees for this year.
Jimmy Kimmel will be hosting the Academy Awards, and they will also be available to stream online at ABC.com, the ABC app, Hulu Live, and YouTube TV for subscribers.