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89th Academy Awards likely to ease diversity criticism

February 26, 2017 - UNITED STATES

The 89th Academy Awards look certain to avoid the controversy of the last two years when no American actors of African or Asian heritage were nominated.

Best Picture nominations for Fences, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, Moonlight, which has already picked up a Golden Globe for Best Drama, and Loving, starring Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, are now favourites to address the diversity call. La La Land, a romantic musical starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, and Kenneth Lonergan's drama Manchester By the Sea, starring Best Actor frontrunner Casey Affleck, appear to be leading the way into the top awards.

Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation seemed initially a surefire Oscar contender to ease tensions over the lack of diversity, but the movie was seen as tainted after reports that Parker, the writer and director as well as the star, was charged and acquitted of rape while in college, and that the alleged victim killed herself in 2012.

The Oscars faced criticism again in 2016 after no non-white performers were nominated in the acting categories for a second consecutive year. The Hollywood Reporter, which reported the criticism, pointed out that such nominations are not unknown. It noted that in 2002, Denzel Washington and Halle Berry famously became the first black actors to win both lead acting awards in the same year. Washington's Oscar was his second. Sidney Poitier was the first black man to win an Oscar.

Taking a cue from the diversity argument at the 2016 Oscars, a number of Asian-American actors have now emerged as fierce advocates for their own visibility in the industry. The New York Times reports that the issue has crystallised in a word - whitewashing - which upbraids Hollywood for taking Asian roles and stories and filling them with white actors.

Oscars: A Look Back at the African-American Winners (Hollywood Reporter 27 Feb 2016)

Asian-American actors are fighting for visibility (25 May 2016)

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Infographic: GN35029 Oscar nominations 2017