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The 2017 Oscars nominees are less white, but there’s still a long way to go

The results are in for the 2017 Oscar nominations, and holy smokes, it’s going to be a heck of a race this year. Predictably leading the Oscars pack is La La Land, with 14 nominations, including Best Actress, Best Director and two nods for Best Original Song. The paean to Hollywood Golden Age musicals has now officially tied All About Eve and Titanic for most nominations ever accrued by a single film; hats off to them.

But the biggest standout? It appears the 2017 Oscars are intent on making #OscarsSoWhite a thing of the past.

Ever since the #OscarsSoWhite controversy of 2015, a keen focus has been placed upon The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences when it has come time to announce their Oscar nominations. It is implied, by mere fact of being nominated, that those films, performers and creators in each category are the best of the best for that year in film; thus, in regard to race, any person or film noticeably included or excluded from the conversation gets noticed.

More: #OscarsSoWhite: How this year’s nominee diversity compares to previous years

The case was no different this year, but in a more positive manner. It should be noted right off the bat that while the 2017 nominees have greater racial diversity than in years past, there is still plenty (and I mean plenty) of room for improvement. Still, it’s important to make note of those films nominated that center on portrayals and conversations around race, the performers who make them award-worthy and the people behind them who contributed their vision, words, music and art to make the films the beloved gems they are today.

Ruth Negga/Loving
Image: Focus Features

Films about people of color won big

Fences, Loving, Lion, Moana, Hidden Figures, Moonlight, 13th, O.J.: Made In America, and I Am Not Your Negro are all the 2017 Oscar-nominated films wherein people of color involved in the film and the film’s themes centered around race have contributed to their nominee status. It is important to note that, especially for those films centered on black life in America, there is not a single slave-related narrative (think 12 Years A Slave, a darling of the recent past). As for Kubo and The Two Strings, which takes place in Japan, the characters are voiced by white actors, nullifying any kind of progressiveness in the area of portrayals of Asian life and peoples in film.

Notably, stories about black men and women exploring their queerness, their careers in STEM, their gender roles and their position in the American social and political hierarchy were all in the mix. Even GLAAD CEO and President Sarah Kate Ellis noticed, tweeting:

Audiences got a refreshing break from seeing black bodies used as slaves, maids, meaningless love objects, cannon fodder for white causes and the like. If anything, the attention showered upon those films centered on black life in America portraying necessary aspects of the black experience that are needed if we are going to expand the conversation on the intersection between race and film going forward.

Actors of color are making history & getting noticed

This season, you’ll probably see a lot of focus on the actors nominated in the Best Actor/Actress and Best Supporting Actor/Actress categories. Here, Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Dev Patel, Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Octavia Spencer and Ruth Negga comprise the nominated actors of color. The Best Supporting Actress category was stacked in favor of women of color: three of the five female nominees are black. This is not only history-making, it is a sign that good things are happening and possible for actors of color.

More: There are 16 movies getting a ton of Oscar buzz right now

Barry Jenkins Moonlight

It’s a year of firsts for directors & creatives of color

Ava DuVernay has nabbed her second nomination by way of her timely and much-loved documentary 13th. Speaking of directors, there are some big firsts happening in the 2017 Oscars. When it comes to filmmakers and film creatives of color working behind the lens on projects, there are some biggies. Roger Ross Williams, director of the doc Life, Animated, and Raoul Peck, for I Am Not Your Negro, have scored their first respective nominations in the Best Documentary Feature category.

Barry Jenkins, director and co-writer of Moonlight, was nominated for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay (along with his co-writer, playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney). Similarly, the late playwright August Wilson got a posthumous nomination for Fences in the Best Adapted Screenplay category.

Two other big firsts go to other creators in less prominent categories. Lin-Manuel Miranda is nominated for Best Original Song with “How Far I’ll Go,” from Moana. This brings Miranda very close to EGOT glory, so I obviously have my fingers crossed very, very hard for him. Additionally, Moonlight‘s editor Joi McMillon became the first black woman to be nominated in the Best Film Editing Category. Arrival‘s director of photography Bradford Young, who also worked on previous Oscar fave Selma, could be the one accepting the Oscar for Best Cinematography. Can I get a “Hell, yes”?

Lin-Manuel Miranda Moana
Image: Dave Starbuck/Future Image/

There is still room for improvement, though

But for all the joys and noteworthy firsts people of color in Hollywood are getting, there are still some major shortcomings. No women, let alone women of color, were nominated in the directing and writing categories. DuVernay, while attached to 13th, is not the sole nominee, and thus, disqualified from this superlative; McMillon’s nom is a laudable exception. This indicates that the Academy, while making bigger strides toward inclusivity and progressiveness in its racial politics with this year’s nominees, still has a long way to go.

More: 2016 Oscars: Best excerpts from the winners’ acceptance speeches

For now, though, I think we should celebrate the achievements and subsequent nominations of those people of color who were actually nominated for the 2017 Oscars. Without question, this is their time to shine.

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