Diversity Circuit: The Precursors Role for People of Color In Front and Behind the Camera

Oscar season is in full swing. The nominees are set. Savvy campaigns are pushing their films to anyone who will listen and every week brings the shifting winds of yet another precursor changing the race.

Sometimes, these precursors merely confirm conventional wisdom. When Daniel Day-Lewis in “There Will Be Blood” or Juliane Moore in “Still Alice” wins at BAFTA, SAG, the Golden Globes and just about every critic’s group in the country, it is a pretty safe bet they will take home the Oscar.

But that sort of coronation is rare. Usually, there are enough different winners of the various precursors that there is still some mystery on Oscar Night. Such mysteries only deepen when someone considered a frontrunner misses out on a nomination for one or more precursors.

Such is the case this year for Regina King, who is widely considered out front for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work in “If Beale Street Could Talk.” But when she missed out on SAG and BAFTA nominations, some wondered whether that could signal that her chances are weaker than previously thought. Even as she has cleared the first hurdle by securing a nomination, questions remain about just how far out front she might be.

But is it possible that for nominees of color, precursors, or the lack thereof, mean less than generally thought? Can recent Oscar winners of color tell us anything about where the Best Supporting Actress race is headed? Let’s find out!

The Breakdown

Since the only question left is whether she can win, we will focus on recent winners and see how they fared at the major precursors. There have been several Asian, Latinx and Black nominees in the acting categories, but when you narrow that down to winners, the number is much smaller.

Since the year 2000, no Asian-American has won an acting Oscar, one Latin-American has (Benicio Del Toro in “Traffic“) and eleven Black-Americans have. For the purposes of this article, it is convenient that most of those wins have come in the Best Supporting Actress category. Jennifer Hudson, Mo’Nique, Octavia Spencer, Lupita Nyong’o and Viola Davis have all won since 2000. Let’s take a look at their precursor track records. Perhaps that can give us clues about Regina King’s path to Oscar victory.

Jennifer Hudson

Jennifer Hudson got her start on the reality television program “American Idol.” She became a contender as soon as “Dreamgirls” premiered. All the buzz centered on her show-stopping rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” Much like Regina King, she was considered the surest bet from her film.

She went on to win at BAFTA, SAG, the Golden Globes, and Critics’ Choice. For our purposes, this represents a clean sweep and a much clearer path than King’s. By Oscar Night, her win was a foregone conclusion.

Mo’Nique

This is the most dominant performance in the bunch. By Oscar Night, Mo’Nique winning for her role in “Precious” was considered one of the biggest locks in Oscar history and she is generally considered a very strong winner.

She won at BAFTA, SAG, the Golden Globes and just about every critic’s group in North America. This was one of the biggest sweeps Oscar has ever seen, so it is not very instructive when it comes to King’s path.

Octavia Spencer

Octavia Spencer’s win for her role in “The Help” came on her first Oscar nomination. This, after years of work on other projects.  At the time, she was a familiar face, but a less familiar name. Since then, she has been nominated in this category twice more.

For this role, she pulled a clean sweep for our purposes (SAG, BAFTA, Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice), but she was considered less than a lock for the win. On Oscar Night, she was the person from her film who walked away with a win.

Lupita Nyong’o

Lupita Nyong’o won for her role in “12 Years A Slave,” but was largely an unknown before that.

In retrospect, her win seems obvious, but with competition from Jennifer Lawrence, who had cemented herself as an Oscar darling, she was considered far less than a lock. But despite a lack of track record and stiff competition, the performance was too strong. She won SAG, BAFTA, the Golden Globe, and Critics’ Choice and Oscar glory soon followed.

Viola Davis

By this point, Viola Davis was one of the most overdue women in Hollywood. This was her third nomination. It came following success on the television side for “How to Get Away with Murder” on ABC. And following her success on stage for her role in “Fences” on Broadway. She won an Emmy and two SAG awards for her television work and won two Tonys for her work on stage. When it was announced that she would reprise her role in the big screen adaptation of “Fences,” the Oscar seemed destined to be hers.

She had been previously nominated for roles in “Doubt” and “The Help,” the latter of which many felt she should have won for. Because of that ‘overdue’ status, she was always going to be a factor. The big question was whether she would compete in Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress throughout the season. Once she chose Best Supporting Actress, it was off to the races.

She won at BAFTA, SAG, the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice en route to getting her Oscar.

Regina King?

So where does that leave Regina King? She is missing SAG and she is missing BAFTA. This means she will have to overcome more than any of her predecessors on this list. Most of the ladies above won all of the major precursors. The win would not be as out of nowhere as Marcia Gay Harden in “Pollock,” but King has been less dominant than many assumed she would be.

She has had a storied career in film and television, with numerous awards for her work in ABC’s “American Crime” and “Seven Seconds” on Netflix. But whether she can add an Oscar to her mantle remains to be seen.

Her misses at SAG and BAFTA are the first signs that her campaign might be in trouble. But could the SAG miss be as simple as Emily Blunt had a very visible year? SAG-AFTRA now includes a lot of populist voters. Maybe that favors something like “A Quiet Place” making it in. Maybe many didn’t see King’s smaller film and thus she didn’t make the cut.

Can the BAFTA miss be chalked up to one too many British women (or women playing British women) in the race? Margot Robbie, Claire Foy, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz might have all gotten a boost in that regard. Who knows, but it’s fun to wonder how things will turn out!

What do you think? Will Regina King still come out on top in the end? Sound off in the comments to let us know!

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