- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 26, 2017

LOS ANGELES | A year after the ceremony was haunted by the #OscarsSoWhite backlash, there are actors of color nominated in all four categories of the Oscars Sunday. One category, best supporting actress, has three.

Whether the greater diversity will translate into higher ratings remains to be seen after last year’s eight-year low. Producers are hopeful that the humor of host Jimmy Kimmel — combined with Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs’ campaign to diversify the Academy membership — will make viewers tune in.

Denzel Washington, nominated for best actor for the August Wilson adaptation “Fences,” which he also directed, notched his seventh nomination for the role of the Pittsburgh patriarch Troy. His co-star, Viola Davis, is nominated for best supporting actress, causing some head-scratching due to her having nearly as much screen time as Mr. Washington.

Previous Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, who won for 2011’s “The Help,” will vie with Miss Davis and another black actor, Naomi Harris, for “Moonlight.” The category is rounded out by Michelle Williams (“Manchester by the Sea”) and Nicole Kidman (“Lion”).

Ruth Negga is up for best actress for “Loving,” the true-life tale of an interracial Virginia couple who successfully fought miscegenation laws all the way to the Supreme Court in nearby Washington, D.C.

In the category of best supporting actor, the African-American actor Mahershala Ali from “Moonlight” is up against Indian-British actor Dev Patel for “Lion.” Previous winner Jeff Bridges (“Hell or Highwater”), Lucas Hedges (“Manchester by the Sea”) and Michael Shannon (“Nocturnal Animals”) fill out the category.

“I’d like to believe that all of those moments when one of us [wins] matters,” Oscar winner Halle Berry said on the red carpet. “Things are changing, maybe not as fast as we would like them to, but if we look at it as a whole,” improvements have been made, she said.

“Manchester by the Sea” producer Kimberly Steward is only the second African-American nominated for producing; the first was Oprah Winfrey for “Selma.” However, Miss Winfrey’s film was not without its attendant controversy, as star David Oyelowo was passed over for a nomination for portraying Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the historical drama.

In the documentary category, there have only ever been three black directors previously nominated. Sunday’s crop features four out of five directors of color, including Ava DuVernay, whose “13th” is up for best doc. Ms. DuVernay previously directed the drama “Selma.”

Cinematographer Bradford Young, who shot the sci-fi movie “Arrival,” is the second black nominee ever for director of photography.

And yet there remain politics. Meryl Streep was excoriated by President Trump for her speech at the Golden Globes, and with such a worldwide audience afore them, it seems all but certain that some of the winners will use the lectern to make clear to their world their opinions on the president and his policies.

Several actors on the red carpet also paid tribute to actor Bill Paxton, who died Sunday at the age of 61 following complications from surgery.

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