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It's Now Possible: Performers Of Color Could Win All Four Acting Oscars

Youn Yuh-jung plays a Korean grandmother in <em>Minari </em>and Daniel Kaluuya plays Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton in <em>Judas and the Black Messiah.</em>
Courtesy A24 / Warner Bros. Pictures
Youn Yuh-jung plays a Korean grandmother in Minari and Daniel Kaluuya plays Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah.

Forget #OscarsSoWhite for 2021. With wins for Youn Yuh-jung as Best Supporting Actress, and Daniel Kaluuya for Best Supporting Actor, there is a real possibility that performers of color will sweep all four of this year's Oscars for acting.

The sweep happened at the Screen Actors Guild Awards just a month ago, where Youn's Korean grandmother in Minari, and Kaluuya's martyred Black Panther in Judas and the Black Messiah, were joined later in the evening by wins for Viola Davis as Best Actress and the late Chadwick Boseman as Best Actor for their portrayals of a real-life blues singer and her fictional trumpet player in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.

Because the Screen Actors Guild is the largest of the Hollywood guilds, and because there is substantial overlap between its membership and that of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awards the Oscars, industry observers look to the SAG Awards as predictors of Academy voting patterns.

In past years, the SAG Award trophies have often (though not always) matched up with the eventual Oscar statuettes. Last year, all four SAG winners – Actor Joaquin Phoenix (Joker), Actress Renée Zellweger (Judy), Supporting Actress Laura Dern (Marriage Story) and Supporting Actor Brad Pitt (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood), also won Oscars in their respective categories.

If that happens again, it will be a welcome follow-up to last year's much-lamented Oscar nomination cycle, which saw just one non-white nominee (Cynthia Erivo nominated for Best Actress for Harriet) among the 20 performance category slots.

In response to that debacle, the Academy instituted inclusion standards for Best Picture nominees. But the new diversity rules are being phased in starting next year, and didn't affect this year's nominating process.

This year's precedent-setting line-up, in which nine of a possible 20 acting nominations went to performers of color is attributable to the choices film studios made about which of their completed films to release during a pandemic which has shuttered theaters worldwide for more than 12 months.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.