Why the 2017 Oscars Are the Most Diverse Ever

Following two years of #OscarsSoWhite, the Academy recognizes diversity in a big way.

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
, Actress) were all recognized.

OSCARS: Everything You Need to Know!

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.

2017 OSCARS: 'La La Land' Leads With 14 Nominations

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
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

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