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Black Actors & The “Best Actor” Academy Award… A Brief History

Black Actors & The "Best Actor" Academy Award... A Brief History

With the Academy Awards ceremony about 2 weeks away, I thought I’d take a look at the history of the various major categories in which black artists are nominated this year, starting with the Best Actor Oscar.

April 13th, 1964… Sidney Poitier became the first black performer in a leading role to win an Oscar for his role in Lilies Of The Field

He also holds the record for the the youngest black actor to win the Best Actor Oscar, at age 37. 
This would be Poitier’s second nomination for the award; the first being for his performance in The Defiant Ones, 5 years earlier.
It would take another looooong 38 years before another black actor would win the Best Actor Oscar – Denzel Washington, in 2001, for his performance in Training Day. And coincidentally, that win made Denzel the oldest black actor to win the Best Actor Oscar, at 47 years old. That was in 2002. 
Since then, 2 black actors have won the Best Actor Oscar – Jamie Foxx for his performance in Ray in 2005, and Forest Whitaker for his role as Idi Amin in The Last King Of Scotland in 2007. 
In total, black actors have been nominated just 20 times for the Best Actor Oscar (including Chiwetel Ejiofor’s nomination this year for 12 Years A Slave), and won on only 4 occasions, all listed above. 
Denzel has the most Best Actor nominations with 4, followed by Morgan Freeman with 3; though Morgan has never won it! 
Given last year’s lineup of black actors in potential Oscar-contender leading roles, it looked like we might have seen as many as 4 black actors nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award, which would set a record if that happened – including Ejiofor, Idris Elba (Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom), Forest Whitaker (Lee Daniels’ The Butler), and Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station). 
Needless to say, that didn’t happen, as Chiwetel’s eventually got separated from the pack, and received a nomination. I never once believed that all 4 actors would be nominated in that category. Nor even 3 of them. At most, I would’ve guessed 2.
There have been 3 occasions in the history of the Oscars, when more than 1 black actor has been nominated in the Best Actor category: 2001, Denzel Washington for Training Day and Will Smith for Ali; 2004, Jamie Foxx for Ray (he actually received 2 nominations that same year, the first and only time it’s ever happened for a black actor; he was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Collateral) and Don Cheadle for Hotel Rwanda; and finally in 2006, when Forest Whitaker was nomination for The Last King of Scotland and Will Smith received his second nomination in this category for The Pursuit of Happyness.
And with his nomination this year, Chiwetel Ejiofor becomes the first black British actor to be nominated for the Best Actor Oscar.

If he doesn’t win the award (and I don’t expect him to; I think it’s Matthew McConaughey’s to lose), it’ll mark the 7th year since a black actor won the Best Actor Oscar. 
Awards will be handed out on March 2 at the Dolby Theatre, and telecast live by ABC, in a ceremony hosted by Ellen Degeneres.
Watch all 4 of videos of each black actor who’s won the Best Actor Oscat, starting with Sidney accepting the 1964 Oscar for Best Actor trophy from Anne Bancroft.

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