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Oscar Nominations Analysis: ‘La La Land’ Will Win Best Picture, Unless Voters Let ‘Moonlight’ Shine

Academy voters show their serious side with this year's nominations — and that could give African-American drama "Moonlight" a Best Picture advantage.

"Moonlight": Andre Holland, Ashton Sanders, Mahershala Ali, Alex Hibbert, Tarell McCraney, Naomie Harris, Trevante Wright, director Barry Jenkins

“Moonlight”: Andre Holland, Ashton Sanders, Mahershala Ali, Alex Hibbert, Tarell McCraney, Naomie Harris, Trevante Rhodes, director Barry Jenkins

Daniel Bergeron

Talk about a course correction. A year after #Oscarsowhite, not only did Academy voters nominate a record seven actors of color, but they also positioned “Moonlight” as the only film that’s likely to rival the 14-nomination juggernaut of “La La Land” for best picture.

The eight nominations for “Moonlight” include two supporting actors, writing, directing, cinematography, and editing (which was not among the six nominations for “Manchester By the Sea”). That upset would require A24 doing everything right, much as Fox Searchlight did for “12 Years a Slave.”

However, one element is in their favor, and it’s beyond the control of any Oscar consultant: “La La Land” is a light escapist romp through musicals past. More often than not, gravitas tends to win the day with Oscar voters, and that’s an instinct that may have even greater resonance this year given the recent inauguration of President Donald Trump.

“Tanna”

Other nominated films that feature actors of color include Paramount’s “Fences” and Fox 2000’s “Hidden Figures,” the surprise best foreign-language nominee “Tanna” (distributed by Lightyear Entertainment), and The Weinstein Company’s “Lion.”

The Academy actors branch nominated a record seven actors of color: familiar faces Octavia Spencer (“Hidden Figures”) and “Fences” stars Denzel Washington (his eighth nomination) and Viola Davis (her third) as well as Oscar newbies Dev Patel (“Lion”), Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris (“Moonlight”), and Ruth Negga (“Loving”).

Voters were inclusive through other categories as well. In cinematography, Bradford Young (“Arrival”) is the first African-American man to earn a nomination from that branch. Editor Joi McMillon was nominated for “Moonlight,” with Nat Sanders. McMillion is the first African-American woman editor to be nominated; the only other African-American nominee in the Academy’s history was Hugh A. Robertson for “Midnight Cowboy” in 1969.

For his second feature, Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”) is the fourth black man nominated by the directors branch, following John Singleton (“Boyz n the Hood “), Lee Daniels (“Precious”), and Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”).

READ MORE: Full Oscar Nominations List

“African Americans did exceptionally well with a record total of 18 nominations across all categories,” stated African American Film Critics Association president Gil Robertson, “including history-making nominations earned by black women in the Best Supporting Actress category; one black editor, a black cinematographer, and three African American themed films for Best Picture. AAFCA applauds the Academy’s efforts and we hope that their progress continues to reflect America’s rich diversity.”

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