Oscar 2005: No Actors of Color

Quick: What's common to Eric Bana (“Munich”), Russell Crowe (“Cinderella Man”), Johnny Depp (“The Libertine”), Ralph Fiennes (“The Constant Gardener”), Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Capote”), Anthony Hopkins (“The World's Fastest Runner”), Tommy Lee Jones (“Three Burials of Melquides Estrada”), Heath Ledger (“Brokeback Mountain”), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (“Match Point”), Viggo Mortensen (“History of Violence”), and Joaquin Phoenix (“Walk the Line”)

They are all white actors, though some are Australians (Bana, Ledger) and British (Fiennes, Rhys Meyers, Hopkins). However, none is an actor of color. Indeed, with the notable exception of Terrence Howard, who has a chance to be nominated for his pimp-turned rapper in “Hustle & Flow,” which is directed by a white filmmaker, Craig Brewer, no black actors in likely to be nominated in the lead category.

The position of black actors in the supporting league is no better. With the exception of Don Cheadle, who may receive a nomination for “Crash,” there are no black contenders. And only one Asian actor, Japanese Ken Watanabe for “Memoirs of a Geisha,” may get in since he's a known quantity, having been nominated for “The Last Samurai.”

The top contenders for Supporting Actor are: George Clooney (“Syriana”), Matt Dillon (“Crash”), Paul Giamatti (“Cinderela Man”), Jake Gyllenhaal (“Brokeback Mountain”), Richard Jenkins (“North Country”), Peter Sarsgaard (“Jarhead”), Frank Langella (“Good Night, and Good Luck”), Robert Patrick (“Walk the Line”), and Geoffrey Rush (“Munich”).

Black Actors in the Academy's History

In the Academy's history, only ten performances have won the Oscar, three in the lead and five in the supporting category. Denzel Washington is the only black actor to have won two Oscars.

These performers are:

Hattie McDaniel, Gone With the Wind (1939)
Sidney Poitier, Lilies of the Field (1963)
Lou Gossett Jr., An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)
Denzel Washington, Glory (1988)
Whoopi Goldberg, Ghost (1990)
Cuba Gooding Jr., Jerry Maguire (1996)
Denzel Washington, Training Day (2001)
Halle Berry, Monster's Ball (2001)
Jamie Foxx, Ray (2004)
Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Poitier, Washington, and Foxx comprise about 4 percent of the Best Actors.

The percentage of African American Best Actor nominees is slightly higher: 6 percent.

They are:

Sidney Poitier, The Defiant Ones (1958)
James Earl Jones, The Great White Hope (1970)
Paul Winfield, Sounder (1972)
Dexter Gordon, Round' Midnight (1986)
Morgan Freeman, Driving Miss Daisy (1989) and The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Denzel Washington, Malcolm X (1992), The Hurricane (1999), and Training Day (2001)
Lawrence Fishburn, What's Love Got to Do With It (1993)
Will Smith, Ali (2001)
Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda (2004)

Supporting Actors

It took 33 years after the creation of the supporting acting categories for the first black performer to be nominated in that league, Rupert Crosse for The Reivers in 1969.

Four black actors have won Supporting Oscars, all in the past twenty years:

Louis Gossett Jr., An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)
Denzel Washington, Glory (1989)
Cuba Gooding Jr., Jerry Maguire (1996)
Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby (2004)
The black supporting actors amount to a small percentage of all supporting nominees.

They are:

Rupert Crosse, The Reivers (1969)
Howard E. Rollins, Ragtime (1981)
Adolph Caesar, A Soldier's Story (1984)
Morgan Freeman, Street Smart (1989)
Jaye Davidson, The Crying Game (1992)
Samuel Jackson, Pulp Fiction (1994)
Michael Clarke Duncan, The Green Mile (1999).
Djimon Hounsou, In America (2003)
Jamie Foxx, Collateral (2004)

If you want to know more about this issue, please read my book, All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards (Continuum International, paperback 2004).