Octavia Spencer, Denzel Washington, Viola Davis and Joi McMillon
AP, AP, Getty

It looks like #OscarsSoWhite is taking a break. After 2016 turned out to be one of the best years in Black cinema, Black actors, directors, and behind-the-scenes folks are finally being recognized for their work.

This year’s Academy Awards features six Black actors (out of 20) in the major acting categories, and three films with Black casts—Hidden Figures, Fences, and Moonlight—are nominated for Best Picture. Two years after writer April Reign challenged Hollywood to support creatives of color through the ubiquitous hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, it looks like Hollywood is finally learning that backing inclusive projects is not only very good for business (Hidden Figures is still the No. 1 film at the box office), but also produces wonderful films.

While Hollywood has a long way to go before we can even begin to think #OscarsSoWhite is over—the Academy is still overwhelmingly White and male after all—this year’s nominees included several historic moments for Black filmmakers and actors. Let’s take a look.

Joi McMillon is the first Black woman to be nominated for Best Editing

Thanks to Moonlight, which garnered eight nominations, Joi McMillon is the first Black woman to be nominated for an Academy Award in the editing category. She co-edited the film with Nat Sanders, but this isn’t her first time working with Barry Jenkins, the director. McMillon also edited Jenkins’ first film Medicine for Melancholy,” as well as several other projects like NBC’s The Biggest Loser. McMillon hopes to encourage more people of color to get into editing by raising awareness that it’s an option.

“The reason this hasn’t happened before is that a lot of times people don’t know what an editor does,” she told Indiewire last year about the possibility of making history. “There’s a lack of exposure to this job for kids who don’t come from a well-to-do background.”

Bradford Young is the first Black American to be nominated for Best Cinematography

Photo: Shadow & Act

Photo: Shadow & Act

If you love films, then you’ve definitely seen Bradford Young’s work. As one of the best—and most in-demand—cinematographers in the business, Young has be part of nearly 60 productions, including Selma, A Most Violent Year, Mother of George, and Middle of Nowhere. His first Oscar nomination comes from his cinematography work on Arrival, and he’s a favorite to win.

Though he’s made history, Young isn’t the first Black Oscar-nominated cinematographer. British-born filmmaker Remi Adefarasin became the first in 1998, when he was nominated for Elizabeth.

Viola Davis is the first Black woman to be nominated for 3 Academy Awards

Viola Davis is an actor’s actor. She flexes her chops on Broadway, lights up primetime TV each week on How to Get Away With Murder, and turns out gripping performances on film. Many have celebrated the actress for her work, and this year marks the third time Davis has been nominated for an Academy Award. Though she’s been recognized before for Doubt and The Help, Davis is the front-runner this year for her performance in Fences.

Denzel Washington has more Oscar nominations than any other Black actor

Denzel—no last name necessary—is a true movie star. He’s starred in everything from big budget action flicks and action movies to Spike Lee joints, turning in quality performances in each film that just make you feel what he’s going through. Over the years, he’s been nominated for SEVEN Academy Awards, including 5 for Best Actor and two for Best Supporting Actor. He’s won twice, taking home the Best Supporting Actor trophy for Glory, and Best Actor award for Training Day.

4 out of 5 Best Documentary nominees are by Black filmmakers

James Baldwin, mass incarceration, O.J. Simpson, and a mute young man, those are the subjects of this year’s Oscar nominated documentaries by Black filmmakers. This year’s group is jam-packed with talented filmmakers and riveting stories, including Ava DuVernay’s 13th, Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, Ezra Edelman’s O.J.: Made In America, and Roger Ross Williams’ Life Animated.

3 out of 5 Best Supporting Actress nominees are Black women

While Ruth Negga is the sole Black woman nominated for Best Actress (Loving), Viola Davis (Fences), Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures), and Naomie Harris (Moonlight) were all honored with Best Supporting Actress nominations, making this one of the most interesting categories yet. Davis is the clear front-runner, having already taken home the Golden Globe, but all of the women turned in amazing performances, so anything can happen. 

Barry Jenkins is the first Black director nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay

Barry Jenkins, the writer and director of Moonlight could make even more history at the Academy Awards. Though he’s the fourth Black director nominated for an Oscar, he’s one of the front-runners for the category and could become the first to actually win. Additionally, Jenkins could also take home awards for Best Screenplay and Best Picture, though Moonlight would have to overtake La La Land, the current leader, to win.

The Oscars air Sunday, Feb. 26,  8:30 p.m. EST/5:30 p.m. PST on ABC.


Britni Danielle is the Entertainment/Culture Director of EBONY. Follow her on Twitter @BritniDWrites



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