10 Times the Oscars Snubbed Black People

By Sameer Rao Feb 24, 2016

Update, February 25, 11:02 a.m. ET:

This piece has been updated with our Twitter poll at the bottom, where you can let us know if you’ll be watching or boycotting the #OscarsSoWhite! 


After the Academy announced that every single performer and director nominated this year is White, the #OscarsSoWhite backlash grew so big that it even forced Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs to respond.

That said, we still have to live with this year’s Oscars, and despite our hopes that host Chris Rock has something relevant planned, Sunday night (February 28) will look a lot like previous Oscars: full of talented Black thespians and directors not getting their due. 

To commemorate how completely not-new this exclusion actually is, here’s our roundup of 10 Black stars who were snubbed in the past decade. Some were skipped over for nominations, while others lost to less deserving competitors. Either way, here they are for your consideration.

10. Forest Whitaker, "The Butler"

Sure, Whitaker might already have a statue for portraying Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland," but the Hollywood vet held this sprawling historical epic together with his dynamic performance as a longtime White House butler. Still, the Academy completely overlooked the star-studded 2013 film, which was loosely based on the life of real White House head butler Eugene Allen.

9. Don Cheadle, "Talk to Me"

While Cheadle and "Miles Ahead" might be a shoo-in for next year’s post-#OscarsSoWhite awards circuit, his charismatic portrayal of trailblazing D.C. talk show host Ralph "Petey" Greene got no love when "Talk to Me" hit screens in 2007. 

8. Taraji P. Henson, "Talk To Me"

Speaking of "Talk to Me," Henson’s criminally overlooked performance as Greene’s girlfriend and supporter, Vernell Watson, might have been the strongest of her career. Did the Academy care? Nope. 

7. Denzel Washington, "Flight"

While Washington’s performance as a pilot battling substance abuse and career woes following a plane crash netted a nomination for "Best Actor in a Leading Role," we think he should have won. Before you say, "He already has awards, why does he need another one?" remember that he lost this one to Daniel Day-Lewis, who has three. 

6. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, "Beyond the Lights"

A victim of bad marketing, this romantic drama features the British actress as a rising music star tormented by the pressures of success. Her captivating acting and exceptional singing showed award-worthy range and made us excited for her future projects.

5. Octavia Spencer, "Fruitvale Station" 

The powerhouse actress delivers one of her most understated, yet crucially important roles in 2013’s "Fruitvale Station." As Oscar Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson, Spencer offers a piercing portrait of a woman forced to deal with her child’s death at the hands of transit police. 

4. Ryan Coogler (director), "Fruitvale Station"

Spencer’s performance is but one part of the stellar film, which is grounded by Ryan Coogler’s assured and frank direction. Few directors’ first feature films are this powerful, and while the Black Lives Matter movement has since forced the nation to confront its ugly legacy of racist state violence, "Fruitvale Station" remains a testament to the everyday people who are continually trampled underfoot. 

3. Viola Davis, "Doubt"

Davis had only one scene in this film, an adaptation of a play about a Black Catholic school student and his presumed sexual abuse at the hands of a White priest, but her stunning portrayal of the student’s mother garnered her an Oscar nomination in 2009. This might have been her strongest film role to date, and her character’s arc says much about race and agency in America. 

2. Michael B. Jordan, "Creed"

How Jordan was snubbed for this one when his co-star, Sly Stallone, got the nod is beyond us (except, racism). This could’ve been a real game-changer. "Creed" interrogated race and class in impoverished Philadelphia with extreme nuance, and Jordan’s electric performance as Adonis Creed added layers to the story without any of the baggage that comes with the "Black role" label. 

1. Ava DuVernay (director), "Selma" 

Surely, you were waiting for this one, and with good reason. Ava DuVernay’s remarkable direction of this history-making film made it clear that she is a force. How this Civil Rights Movement-focused story earned a 2015 nomination for "Best Picture" but not for "Best Director" is—well, we’ll just let Key and Peele tell you. 

Did we miss any big ones? What are your plans for Oscar night? Let us know in our Twitter poll below.