January 24, 2017 / 10:35 PM / 2 years ago

#OscarsSoWhite to #OscarsLessWhite; diverse nominees stand out

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Oscar nominations on Tuesday honored the largest ever crop of actors of color along with a diverse range of stories, a year after Hollywood was slammed for excluding minority talent.

Actress Viola Davis from the ABC series "How to Get Away with Murder" while arriving at the 21st annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles, California January 25, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

The #OscarsSoWhite controversy last year was sparked when all 20 acting nominees were white for a second consecutive year. The hashtag highlighted a larger issue within the film industry, where talent and stories of diverse communities can be hard to get made or are not pushed for awards recognition.

This year, #OscarsLessWhite was trending on Twitter as each acting category featured actors of color: Denzel Washington and Viola Davis for “Fences,” Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris for “Moonlight,” and Octavia Spencer for “Hidden Figures.”

“Loving” star Ruth Negga, of Irish-Ethiopian descent, and “Lion” actor Dev Patel, who is British and of Indian descent, were also nominated.

“It shows that in front of and behind the camera, the stories are not homogenous, so I’m heartened that the faces and genres that’ll be in that (Oscar) room in 33 days’ time reflect a film industry that I work in, that isn’t a homogenous place,” “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins told Reuters.

Although whimsical musical romance “La La Land” led with a record-tying 14 nominations, “Moonlight,” about an impoverished black boy grappling with his sexuality landed eight nods.

The acting nods follow the success of “Hidden Figures,” about three black female mathematicians working for NASA in the 1960s. The film also landed a best picture Oscar nomination.

The film grossed $84 million at North American theaters and topped the box office for two weeks, dispelling industry notions about minority actors not drawing mass audiences.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, host of the annual Oscars, overhauled its membership last year, pledging to double membership of women and minorities by 2020 and stripping some older, non-active members of voting privileges.

Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs said the aim this year was to “reach out to great filmmakers from around the world” and make the Oscars a global event.

The initiative also led to the Academy breaking tradition by live-streaming the nominations announcement instead of broadcasting a handful of key categories on U.S. television.

“I know that we have reached more people instantly than we ever had,” Boone Isaacs told Reuters.

Three explorations of black stories made the documentary shortlist: Ava DuVernay’s “13th,” about U.S. criminal justice and slavery, ESPN’s “O.J.: Made in America” on the infamous trial of O.J. Simpson, and “I Am Not Your Negro,” about civil rights leaders through the eyes of late U.S. novelist James Baldwin.

“It’s an honor ... to be nominated in a year that truly embraces and celebrates inclusion within our creative community,” DuVernay said in a statement. 

Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy and Rollo Ross; Editing by Sandra Maler

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