Is This the Beginning of the End for a Multiracial Oscars?

Industry watchers worry structural changes mean this year's lily white Oscar list isn't coincidental.

By Jorge Rivas Feb 24, 2011

This Sunday you won’t see any black actors winning Oscars. No best supporting actor, best actress or supporting actress. That’s because there are no black actors nominated for any of the four major Oscar categories for actors. There’s only one actor of color nominated this year, Spanish actor Javier Bardem for "Biutiful." 

This year’s whites-only awards season is particularly striking because it comes one year after everybody celebrated a remarkably race-conscious Oscar ceremony in 2010. "The Blind Side," "District 9,"  "Avatar" and "The Hurt Locker" all touched on black and white relations. And we can’t forget the six nominations for Lee Daniel’s much discussed "Precious."

It was nine years ago when both Denzel Washington and Halle Berry both won the top awards of the night. Washington was only the second African-American man to win Best Actor, and Berry was the first African-American woman to win Best Actress. In her emotional acceptance speech, Berry famously thanked the women that came before her:

"This moment is so much bigger than me."

"This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It’s for the women that stand beside me–Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett–and it’s for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened."


As Berry’s speech suggested, the story of Hollywood’s diversity–or the lack of–is not a new one. It’s one that we’ve written about many times here at and dozens of books and dissertations have explored. But the disappointing diversity of actors at this year’s Oscars may be a sign of a broader structural change in Hollywood, one that may make it a while before we see more Oscar nominees of color. According to some of the industry’s leading filmmakers, it’s getting tougher to make the sorts of movies that offer actors of color the ambitious roles Oscar rewards. 

In a February GQ story, "The Day Movies Died", film critic Mark Harris, predicts films like "Precious" and "Monster’s Ball," or even more mainstream ones like "The Color Purple" and "Ghost," are a thing of the past. "A good new idea has become just too scary a road to travel for big studios," he writes. Harris in’t alone in that theory. "It’s more difficult than ever to get a picture made with any serious subject matter–let alone an ethnic-themed one," John Singleton told the Hollywood Reporter. Singleton, an Academy member, was the first black director to be nominated for Best Director, for his 1991 "Boyz N the Hood."

"For the Academy to continue going forward, it has to be relevant and it has to be inclusive of everybody. We’re a worldwide organization. The only thing we missed last year was an international production for Best Picture," Tom Sherak, Academy president, told The Hollywood Reporter. "My hope is that we get more ethnicity in the Academy."

Last June, the Academy sent invitations to Mo’Nique, Gabourey Sidibe, Lee Daniels and Geoffrey Fletcher, as well as "Avatar" star Zoe Saldana and "Hustle & Flow" producer Stephanie Allain. Over the past few years, invitations have gone out to Tyler Perry, Jennifer Hudson, Viola Davis, Taraji P. Henson and Jeffrey Wright, as well as Latina actresses Adriana Barraza and Maribel Verdu.

But does this mean anything if there aren’t any actors of color for the Academy to vote for? Probably not.

Check out the timeline below with Oscar milestones. It includes videos from memorable acceptance speeches, including Cuba Gooding, Jr, and Berry, along with historical notes, including first host of color, nominees and winners for each category.

2009 Lee Daniels is the first black director
to be nominated for Best Picture for Precious.

Jennifer Hudson wins Best Actress in a Supporting Role for playing Effie White in Dreamgirls. She is the first black actor to win an Academy Award for a debut film actress and the youngest black actress to win an award (age 25).


Guillermo Navarro is the first and only Latin-American director who won Best Cinematography for Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno). 


Chris Rock hosts the Oscars.

2004 Catalina Sandino Moreno is the first Colombian to be nominated for an Academy Award and first actress to be nominated for a Spanish-speaking role in Maria Full of Grace.

Jamie Foxx is the first black actor to win Best Actor for a musical, for playing Ray Charles in Ray.

2003 Benicio del Toro is the first and only actor to win for a Spanish-speaking role in Traffic.  

Halle Berry is the first black actress to win Best Actress for playing Leticia Musgrove in Monster’s Ball.

2001 Denzel Washington is the first black actor to receive five acting nominations overall, second black actor to win Best Actor for playing Alonzo Harris in Training Day.
1996 Rev. Jesse Jackson calls for Oscars boycott to protest lack of movie executives of color.    
1996 Cuba Gooding, Jr., wins best supporting actor for Jerry Maguire. At 29, he became the youngest black actor to win an Academy award.
1994 Whoopi Goldberg hosts the Oscars.  

John Singleton is the first black person to be nominated for Best Director and the youngest (age 23) for Boyz n the Hood.

1985 Luis Penzo directed The Official Story (La historia oficial) which was the first Latin American film to win for Best Foreign Language film.  

Richard Pryor co-hosts the Oscars along with Warren Beatty, Ellen Burstyn, and Jane Fonda.

1958 Sidney Poitier is the first black actor who won Best Actor for his role as Homer Smith in Lilies of the Field.
1956 Yul Brynner (born in Russia) is the first Asian to win Best Actor award for playing King Monkut of Siam in The King and I  
1952 Anthony Quinn is the first Mexican-American actor to win an Academy Award for Viva Zapata!
1950 Jose Ferrer is the first Hispanic actor to win an Academy Award for Cyrano de Bergerac.  

Hattie McDaniel wins Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Gone with the Wind.  She is the first black person to win an Oscar.

1935 Merle Oberon is the first Asian nominated for an Academy Award and first Asian nominated for Best Actress for playing Kitty Vane in The Dark Angel.