Before the 89th Academy Awards aired this past Sunday, it was already clear that the awards show was going to be different this year. The Oscars had received two years of strong criticism and boycotts over its failure to nominate any actors of color, despite standout performances in movies such as Selma, Creed, and others.
But when the nominations were announced on January 24, history was made in a positive way: Every acting category had at least one black actor nominated. This year’s Oscars tied 2007’s record of 7 nonwhite actors nominated, including Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Mahershala Ali, Ruth Negga, Naomie Harris, and Dev Patel.
Other categories also recognized nonwhite moviemakers. Director Ava DuVernay (who some thought was snubbed in the directing category for 2014’s Selma) became the first black woman to be nominated in the documentary category, a category dominated by black directors. Puerto Rican Lin Manuel Miranda was nominated for best original song for “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana, which was performed during the awards show by 16-year-old Hawaiian actress Auli’i Cravalho. Technical categories including cinematography and editing also had nonwhite talent represented.
So how did this more diverse slate of nominations stack up? The first win of the night went to Mahershala Ali for Best Supporting Actor, making him the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar. Viola Davis won her first Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, making her the first black woman to win an Oscar, Golden Globe, and Tony for acting. Moonlight, which was written and directed by black men and featured an all-black cast, won the award for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay as well. Advocates for diversity and representation in film hope this trend continues and that more actors of other backgrounds, such as Asian and Latino, will also see a surge in nominations.