One part of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy that must be addressed is precedent. Any narrow-minded person who argues that no actors of color have been worthy of a nomination in the major acting categories for the past two years clearly doesn’t know their Academy Award history.
For instance, some people have said despite strong performances, Beasts of No Nation and Tangerine were “too small.” But film size wasn’t a problem when Academy voters nominated jazz saxophonist Dexter Gordon for a lead actor Oscar in 1986 for his performance in Round Midnight. The man barely spoke and the film had a small release. But Gordon garnered a nod all the same proving that when the Academy wants to nominate someone, they nominate that person. Period.
Don’t believe us? Read on for a list of eight unexpected and forgotten performances by Black actors and actresses nominated for Oscars through the years:
Dorothy Dandridge transformed herself into a sex kitten for the musical Carmen Jones and earned an Oscar nomination in 1954. Although she didn’t win, she was the first Black actress to be nominated in the lead actress category.
Laurence Fishburne undoubtedly deserved his 1993 Oscar nomination for What’s Love Got to Do with It. Taller than the real Ike Turner, Fishburne nevertheless was convincing as a charismatic sadist. But people often forget he was nominated because Angela Bassett, who was nominated in the lead actress category, eclipsed him with her larger-than-life turn as Tina Turner.
We all know Oprah Winfrey acted her heart out in The Color Purple. But did you know she earned an Oscar nomination for her role as Sofia in 1985, a year before her talk show debuted?
Quvenzhane Wallis stole our hearts as Hushpuppy in Beasts Of the Southern Wild. At 9 years old, she was the youngest actress to receive an Oscar nomination in the lead actress category. So tell us again why Abraham Attah wasn’t nominated for Beasts of No Nation?
Remember that time Terence Howard was nominated for an Oscar for his role as a pimp and drug dealer who dreamed of becoming a rapper in Hustle & Flow? Yeah, that happened in 2005 but people tend to forget.
People also forget that comedian and father Eddie Murphy was up for an Oscar in 2006. And truth be told, he should’ve won for his performance in Dreamgirls because he’d nabbed a Golden Globe and SAG Award just prior to losing the Academy Award to veteran actor Alan Arkin.
Queen Latifah is a good actress but again, not a lot of people recall her 2002 Oscar nomination for Chicago. Latifah co-starred as Matron Mama Morton and was the first female hip-hop star to earn the accolade. No wonder she was so convincing as Bessie Smith.
There are at least four films for which Samuel L. Jackson should’ve received Oscar nominations. This includes his turn as master manipulator Stephen the slave in Django Unchained. While Jackson is too often overlooked, he did receive a 1994 Academy Award nomination for his role as Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction.