Best Actress 2015 Oscar nominees

Oscars 2016: The nominees are blindingly white

For the second year in a row, all 20 Oscar acting nominees are white. And whereas the 2015 Oscar nominations included, a Martin Luther King Jr. docudrama, among the Best Picture nominees, the 2016 lineup doesn't feature a single story about a person of color. (The directing list includes Latino Alejandro G. Iñárritu.)

It's vaguely remarkable that this has happened two years in a row. In 2014, won the Oscar for Best Picture, and the acting categories featured several nominees of color, including eventual Best Supporting Actress winner Lupita Nyong'o (who starred in 12 Years a Slave). And before last year, the Oscars hadn't seen a completely white acting nominee list since 1997. But now it's happened two years in a row.

The overall landscape is damning: In recent years, films about people of color that catch the Oscars' attention are the exception, not the rule. That's happening, paradoxically, as the Academy itself is making baby steps toward diversifying its membership.

The Selma hypothesis

Paramount David Oyelowo stars in Selma, which deserved much better than the Oscars gave it.

In early 2015, when the Academy relegated Selma to just two categories — Best Picture and Best Original Song — many commentators suggested the film didn't go over better with voters because it just wasn't that good.

I would beg to differ on the film's quality, but it's a reasonable hypothesis. After all, every person on Earth will have a different takeaway from watching the exact same film or performance. My masterpiece might be your garbage fire, and that's always fun to argue about.

But two years in a row makes for a disturbing trend, at the very least. And in 2016 there were a fair number of contenders, from Idris Elba in to Michael B. Jordan in, Benicio Del Toro in, and Will Smith in . And that's to say nothing of the entire ensemble of (and the film itself). You may not like all of those performances (I loved Elba, del Toro, and Jordan, thought Creed should have been in Best Picture, and could take or leave the rest), but you'll surely find one of them worth recognizing.

What's important to note here is that there's not just one film being ignored — there are many. Watch all of the films I've listed above, or any one of a number of other possibilities I'm sure you can find on your own, and I doubt you'll come away thinking absolutely none of them are Oscar-worthy. It's so much harder to suggest that "maybe the Academy just didn't like it" when "it" applies to a whole swath of movies and performances.

Indeed, both Straight Outta Compton and Creed belong to beloved Oscar genres — the musical biopic and the tale of an underdog overcoming overwhelming odds — yet neither could gain Oscar traction. This is deeply strange. They're among the best-received films of the year — both critically and commercially. Why couldn't Oscar voters relate? (Tellingly, Creed's one major nomination was for Sylvester Stallone, the white supporting player in a film about a young black man.)

This keeps happening, even though the Academy is trying to diversify

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images Viola Davis won a Screen Actors Guild award for her work in The Help. That didn't translate into an Oscar.

This has happened in spite of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' attempts to diversify its membership. Yes, the average member of the Academy is still a white man in his 60s, but the organization has gone out of its way to induct younger voters in the past several years — as well as women and people of color. Diversifying the membership, however, has had the unexpected effect of making the Oscars less diverse.

And there have been plenty of heavily buzzed-about films and performances from people of color in recent years that have ultimately fizzled out. Selma is a good recent example, but examples are even easier to find at the winners' stage. When Viola Davis was heavily touted to win the Best Actress Oscar for, having won several important precursor awards, she lost to Meryl Streep (who won for one of her more mediocre performances) at the Oscars.

Of course, Hollywood makes fewer films about people of color than it should, but even allowing for that, the Oscars seem to have completely avoided them in the past couple of years. It's as if the Academy decided, all at once, that enough was enough.

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