Blogs on Film

Black Actors Break the Oscar Ceiling

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, African-American actors had a boomlet of Academy Award acting nominations. Many predicted at the time that the civil rights era had finally come to Hollywood, and that Black nominees and winners would become a fixture at the Oscar ceremony.

It was a false dawn. Nomination droughts set in for Best Actor (1972 to 1986), Best Actress (1974 to 1985), Best Supporting Actor (1969 to 1981) and Best Supporting Actress (1967 to 1983). Black actors were rarely given good opportunities to showcase their talents, and when they did, the Academy ignored them.

Basic Black: Oscar Goes to Halle Berry and Denzel Washington

In 2001, Halle Berry won the Oscar for Best Actress and Denzel Washington won for Best Actor. Again, many predicted that Hollywood had changed forever. Enough time has gone by to evaluate whether 2001 was a turning point or a blip on the radar.

The second time was the charm. Since the Academy’s creation in 1929, African-Americans have been nominated for acting awards a total of 88 times. Most (59%) of those nominations occurred from 2001 onward. The change is even more impressive if the analysis is restricted to winners: 16 Oscars in the 21st century, versus only 6 over the preceding 72 years.