2022 brought both a changing of the guard at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and a transformative year for the film industry, which is still coping with fallout from the pandemic.
In terms of the ongoing question of will the Oscars become better at recognizing a more diverse set of nominees, it is all in the hands of the voters.
The edict that “diversity sells” doesn’t seem to have much impact on what projects the awards body chooses to honor. The Academy tends to lean into prestige projects over accessible box office hits. There is a chance that as many as four big-budget sequels make it into the Best Picture category — not just for being popular, but for being some of the best reviewed films of the year — and they all made it a point to have ensembles that are racially diverse. Even smaller hits like “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” now A24’s highest grossing release, has stayed front and center through the year, partly as a major win for Asian-American representation.
If the newly released Oscar shortlists are any indication, Oscar voters do seem keen this year on widening the scope of the filmmakers they recognize. Out of the 15 films on the Documentary Feature shortlist, eight are directed by women, and four are directed by people of color. Meanwhile, the International Film category includes films from five different continents, and although European countries represent half the list, quite a few of the films those countries chose to represent them focus on characters from underrepresented backgrounds (i.e. “Saint Omer” (France), “Holy Spider” (Denmark)).
All in all, the voting body for the Oscars is still 66 percent male and 81 percent white, so the push to significantly diversify its membership and governing bodies in order to have a group of voters that give eligible films equitable consideration is not over. But 2022 provided more than enough awards contenders that both kept diversity and inclusion in mind, and succeeded on every metric that makes an Oscar-worthy film.
Here is a look at these prospective nominees’ shots in the major categories.
History: While the 2022 Best Picture nominees were not as racially diverse in front of and/or behind the camera as the previous year, “CODA” winning was a major step in the right direction for disability representation (the film centers on a mostly deaf cast). Nominee “Drive My Car” also indicated that Academy voters continued to broaden their horizons, considering more films with predominantly Asian casts, as well as more films not in English.
Although it is still true that six of the last 10 Best Picture winners were directed by filmmakers of color— “12 Years a Slave,” “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” “Moonlight,” “The Shape of Water,” “Parasite,” and “Nomadland”— half of those still focus on white, cishet protagonists.
The state of the race: As previously mentioned, there is a much more diverse pool of contenders for Best Picture this year, but the final nominations are not likely to reflect that. Only the Daniels’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once” seems like a surefire nominee that would contribute to inclusion efforts. James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” and Joseph Kosinski’s “Top Gun: Maverick” have diverse casts, but that is hard to see in the former, with the majority of the characters being the blue Na’vi people (who represent an indigenous population), and the latter does not give its characters of color much to do.
But there is a guarantee that 10 films will be nominated, so those films on the bubble for the presumed ninth and tenth spots on the nominees list, like Gina Prince-Bythewood’s “The Woman King,” S.S. Rajamouli’s “RRR,” and Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” would all contribute to making the Best Picture category more representative of the diversity of awards worthy films released in 2022.
Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans,” an auto-fictional drama about his family upbringing, may be the frontrunner, but “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is giving it a real run for its money.
History: Jane Campion’s win for “The Power of the Dog” ended a four-year streak where a filmmaker of color won the Oscar in this category: Chloé Zhao for “Nomadland” (2021), Bong Joon Ho for “Parasite” (2020), Alfonso Cuarón for “Roma” (2019), and Guillermo del Toro for “The Shape of Water” (2018). However, it also continued the trend of women winning the award that had eluded them for over 80 years. Notable too that Ryusuke Hamaguchi was also nominated last year, continuing the recent trend of nominating more international feature directors, in addition to honoring more directors of color.
The state of the race: Similar to Best Picture, the contenders that most represent progress on the diversity front are likely fighting for that final fifth spot on the nominations list. Slightly understandable when Best Director is shaping up to be a race between Steven Spielberg and James Cameron, the two most influential filmmakers of the last 40 years. Right now they are likely to be joined by Martin McDonagh (“The Banshees of Inisherin”) and Todd Field (“TÁR”), with Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”) facing an uphill battle in terms of the recognition of co-directors. Sarah Polley (“Women Talking”) and Gina Prince-Bythewood (“The Woman King”) have the two best shots of keeping the streak of female nominees going. S.S. Rajamouli (“RRR”) and Ruben Östlund (English-language “Triangle of Sadness”) could represent the international contingent (although neither of their films were submitted for Best International Feature). Time will tell what progressive trends, if any, continue with the 2023 Oscar nominations for Best Director.
History: Best Actress has always been the category that most indicates the dearth of lead roles for women, and how that has translated into only one woman of color ever accepting the Oscar. Andra Day, Cynthia Erivo, Yalitza Aparicio, Ruth Negga, Quvenzhané Wallis, and Viola Davis are the only actresses of color to be nominated in the category within the last decade. No actresses of color were nominated in this category last year.
The state of the race: The current narrative for the upcoming 95th Oscars is that Best Actress will either go to Cate Blanchett for her work in “TÁR” or Michelle Yeoh for her performance in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” That means either the Australian actress is set to win her second Best Actress Oscar or that Yeoh will become the first ever East Asian actress to win the category. Outside of the frontrunners, “The Woman King” star Viola Davis is poised to receive her third nomination in the category, and Danielle Deadwyler is likely to make it in for her celebrated work as activist Mamie Till-Mobley in “Till.” Their only competition for nomination slots are Golden Globe and Critics Choice nominees Michelle Williams (“The Fabelmans”) and Margot Robbie (“Babylon”).
History: While its history still speaks to a lack of awards-worthy roles for men of color, the Best Actor category has seen a lot of progress in the past two decades when it comes to diversity. While only one woman of color has ever won Best Actress, Will Smith became the fifth Black man to win Best Actor last year, and he was nominated against fellow Best Actor winner of color Denzel Washington.
The state of the race: Best Actor is another category with four prospective nominees that seem ensured to make the final cut, and one wildcard slot that could change the diversity numbers. Currently, the frontrunners are Colin Farrell (“The Banshees of Inisherin”), Austin Butler (“Elvis”), and Brendan Fraser (“The Whale”), with “Living” star Bill Nighy comfortably trailing them, looking to build momentum in the new year. Based off Golden Globe nominations, “Babylon” star Diego Calva or “The Inspection” star Jeremy Pope could break into the category and prevent an all-white list of nominees, but more critics and prognosticators are predicting Australian actor Hugh Jackman (“The Son”) or Irish actor Paul Mescal (“Aftersun”) to take that fifth Best Actor nominee slot.
Annette Brown/Courtesy of Marvel Studios
Best Supporting Actress
History: This is the category that had the first ever actor of color to win an Oscar, “Gone With the Wind” star Hattie McDaniel. In recent years it has built off that legacy, and become the category where performers of color most shine, with half the Best Supporting Actress winners from the past decade being women of color. That stat includes last year’s winner Ariana DeBose (“West Side Story”), who was nominated against fellow Black actress “King Richard” star Aunjanue Ellis.
The state of the race: There are way too many deserving Best Supporting Actress contenders this year to predict the final nominees with any certainty, but this will likely be the acting category that best portrays how 2022 was not just a great year for films centered on racial minorities, it was also a great year for films centered on women.
Angela Bassett (“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”), Stephanie Hsu (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”), and Hong Chau (“The Whale”) are three favorites for the nomination who also happen to be women of color. They are in the mix with actresses like Kerry Condon (“The Banshees of Inisherin”), Jessie Buckley (“Women Talking”), and Jamie Lee Curtis (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”), but the prospective nominees most on the bubble are more women of color such as Dolly De Leon (“Triangle of Sadness”) and Janelle Monáe (“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery”).
Courtesy of Apple TV+
Best Supporting Actor
History: Although last year’s Best Supporting Actor nominees were not racially diverse, winner Troy Kotsur (“CODA”) became the first deaf male actor to ever win an acting Oscar.
In recent years, the category did well in organically recognizing a diverse group of nominees, with Black actors Daniel Kaluuya and Mahershala Ali both winning within the past five years.
The state of the race: Frontrunner Ke Huy Quan (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”) would be the second ever Asian actor to win in the category. The only other actor of color with a true shot of making the final cut for Best Supporting Actor nominees at the 2023 Oscars is Brian Tyree Henry for his performance in the Apple TV+ drama “Causeway,” but otherwise the category seems set to include “The Fabelmans” star Judd Hirsch and Paul Dano, “The Banshees of Inisherin” stars Brendan Gleeson and Barry Keoughan, with “Women Talking” star Ben Whishaw joining Henry right on the bubble.
Nominations for the 95th Academy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, January 24, 2023. The 95th Oscars will be held on Sunday, March 12, 2023, in Hollywood and will be televised live on ABC.