Why the 2017 Oscars Are the Most Diverse Ever

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Ahead of the 2017 Academy Awards, which will be handed out live on ABC starting at 8:30 p.m. ET / 5:30 p.m. PT, we’re looking back on the historic nominations, which were first announced on Jan. 24.  

After two years in which the Academy Awards failed to nominate a single black actor in any of the four acting categories, the nominees for the 2017 Oscars are notably more diverse than ever.

A black actor is nominated in every acting category -- Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress -- in the same year for the first time in Academy history. The closest to the record has been three nominations spread across three of the acting categories, which was last achieved in 2013.

This year, Denzel Washington (Fences, Actor), Mahershala Ali (Moonlight, Supporting Actor), Ruth Negga (Loving, Actress), Viola Davis (Fences, Supporting Actress), Naomie Harris (Moonlight, Supporting Actress) and Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, Actress) were all recognized.

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The recognition of Davis, Harris and Spencer in the Supporting Actress category is the first time multiple black nominees have been nominated in that category since Margaret Avery and Oprah Winfrey were both recognized for The Color Purple in 1985. And Davis’ nomination also makes her the most nominated black actress in Oscar history, while Spencer becomes the third black actress (behind Davis and Whoopi Goldberg) to earn multiple nominations.

Following his Golden Globe nomination, Ali told ET that he hoped recognition for Moonlight as well as Hidden Figures and Fences, all of which scored multiple nominations at the Golden Globes and Oscars, was “a start to something that becomes really normal.”

“I would love to see people of color continue to get opportunities and have opportunities to do projects that are action blockbusters as well as being a part of projects that are art house and indie or projects that in some way find themselves around and in the conversation every awards season,” Ali said. “We want to exist in all platforms and we want to see diversity and see people being included on every level. I hope that this is a real beginning for that.”

Additionally, Dev Patel was nominated in the Supporting Actor category for Lion, making him the third actor of Indian descent recognized at the Oscars and only the 13th Asian actor to receive a nomination. Jackie Chan will become only the fifth Asian person to receive an Honorary Academy Award.

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The lack of representation of Asians onscreen came under fire following last year’s Oscars ceremony, when Chris Rock made a joke that audiences slammed for being racially insensitive. Since then, several Asian actors have spoken out about lack of representation and whitewashing onscreen. "I can't control what other people do. It's a problem that, unfortunately, there's no quick fix for," Aziz Ansari, the co-creator and star of Netflix's Master of None, told ET last summer. "It's going to take a long time."

Diversity wasn’t limited to the acting categories. Moonlight earned eight nominations in several major categories, while Fences picked up four, including a posthumous nomination for playwright August Wilson, and Hidden Figures scored three. All three are up for Best Picture.

“I think [Fences] would have resonated at any time but I think this year, particularly, it was needed and I think it just resonated even louder because of that,” producer Todd Black told ET. “It felt really gratifying and satisfying that people have embraced the film and that we've done so well with the film.”

Wilson, who wrote “The Pittsburgh Cycle” -- 10 plays, including Fences, about the black experience set in different decades, died in 2005 before seeing the play adapted for the screen. And the significance of his nomination is not lost on Black. “I'm really, personally, incredibly gratified that we're able to bring this great American playwright -- one of the greatest -- to the big screen 30-some odd years later,” he said. “That for me is the most exciting, that the adapted screenplay got the nomination. That's a huge win for us on every level.”

Barry Jenkins, who directed Moonlight, is also the first black director since Steve McQueen (2013's Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave) to be recognized for Best Director, a category that’s only nominated four black men -- John Singleton, Lee Daniels, McQueen and Jenkins -- since the award was first handed out in 1929. And Joi McMillon became the first black woman nominated for Best Film Editing for her work on the independent film about a gay boy growing up in Miami’s projects with a drug-addled mother.

MORE: Viola Davis on the Importance of August Wilson's Work on Stage and Screen

Additionally, Ava DuVernay earned her first Oscar nomination for 13th, a documentary about race in the U.S. criminal justice system, after being snubbed for her work on Selma. Directors Roger Ross Williams (Life, Animated), Raoul Peck (I Am Not Your Negro) and Ezra Edelman (O.J.: Made in America) are also nominated alongside DuVernay for Best Documentary Feature.

When asked at 2017 Film Independent Filmmaker Grant and Spirit Award Nominees Brunch about #OscarsSoWhite and what might happen this year, the director told ET, “They’re going to pick who they’re going to pick. They’re going to do what they want to do.”

“We’re going make our movies regardless and it’s all good,” she concluded. 

Increased inclusivity at the Oscars is not limited to race. While there’s still a long way to go in terms of LGBT representation, Moonlight is the first LGBT film since the Harvey Milk biopic Milk to receive eight nominations, including one for playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney. He earned a writing nomination (alongside Jenkins) for adapting his semi-autobiographical play for the screen.

McCraney is among several LGBT nominees, which also includes Mica Levi (Best Original Score for Jackie), Scott Rudin (Best Picture for Fences), Benj Pasek (up twice for Best Original Song for La La Land) and Bryon Howard, co-director of Best Animated Feature nominee Zootopia, which tells the story of a female rabbit police officer fighting prejudice and triumphing over xenophobia. Additionally, I Am Not Your Negro, which is up for Best Documentary Feature, tells the story of gay author James Baldwin.

This story was originally published on Jan. 24, 2017.