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Oscars 2019: How This Year’s 15 Black Nominees Could Make History

While there's a general understanding that a racial imbalance exists, the numbers tell an even more damning story.

An Oscar statue is places inside the ballroom at the 89th Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon in Beverly Hills, Calif. When the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences announced changes to next year's Oscars broadcast, including the controversial creation of a "popular film" category, it prompted a host of questions about what this means for the world's biggest awards showOscars Popularity Contest, Beverly Hills, USA - 6 Feb 2017

The Academy Awards

Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Since the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences began celebrating excellence in film in 1927, fewer than 200 black creatives have been nominated across all categories. (Total possible slots: Approximately 10,000.) Among the non-acting awards, only 23 black nominees have won.

As Viola Davis emphasized in her now-famous 2015 Emmy Awards acceptance speech, the problems lies in the lack of opportunity. And things are changing: The Academy’s diversity initiatives broadened its membership, and studies like USC Annenberg’s annual Inclusion Initiative have put the industry on notice that the lack of diversity is a far-reaching issue.

Now, each new year comes with opportunities for “firsts,” — or, almost as important, for yanking a category from a decades-long morass of “first and only.” Other categories still remain without a single black nominee, including Makeup/Hair, Sound Editing, and Visual Effects.

At the 2019 Oscar ceremony, there are 15 black nominees out of 212 overall (the second most in history, behind the 18 in 2016). Here’s a look at the stats that surround them:

Nominees for the 91st Oscars® were celebrated at a luncheon held at the Beverly Hilton, Monday, February 4, 2019. The 91st Oscars will air on Sunday, February 24, live on ABC.
The annual “class picture” for Oscar nominees. Photographed at the Beverly Hilton, February 4, 2019.

  • Spike Lee, only the sixth black filmmaker to receive a Best Director nomination, could become the first to win the category. He’s also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture.
  • Eight films directed by black people have been nominated for Best Picture; this year is a record with two, “Black Panther” and “BlackKklansman.” Only two have won: “12 Years a Slave” and “Moonlight.”
  • Hannah Beachler (“Black Panther”) is the first-ever black designer to receive a Best Production Design nomination.
  • Peter Ramsey of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is the first black director to be nominated in the Animated Feature category.
  • Terence Blanchard is nominated for Best Original Score with “BlacKkKlansman.”The only black composer to win that category was Herbie Hancock, who received the Oscar in 1986 for “Round Midnight.”
  • Ruth Carter, who is nominated for Best Costume Design (“Black Panther”), is one of two black people to be nominated since the Academy created the category for the 1949 awards. (The other is Sharen Davis, who received nominations for “Ray” and “Dreamgirls.”) Carter was previously nominated for “Malcolm X” and “Amistad;” if “Black Panther” wins, she would be the first black person to win Costume Design.
  • If “All the Stars” wins the Best Original Song Oscar for “Black Panther,” SZA, who performs the track with rapper Kendrick Lamar, would be the first black woman to win the category in over 30 years. (Her predecessor was Irene Cara, who won Best Original Song in 1983 for “Flashdance.”)
  • A total of 11 black producers have received Best Picture nominations, and this year marks the first time a black producer received a second nomination (Jordan Peele, for “Get Out” and “BlackKlansman”). One black producer has won (Steve McQueen, who had a producer credit on “12 Years a Slave”).

So while this year’s nominees may represent the most diverse in Academy history — enough for the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag to take a well-deserved vacation — for black creatives (and other creatives of color), make no mistake: Even if the black nominees won this year in every category, it’s still incremental change.

The 91st Annual Academy Awards will be handed out at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood. ABC will broadcast the Academy Awards ceremony live on Sunday, February 24.

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