Maybe we forget because of President's Day weekend , but today is the actual birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the president who fought so hard for equality of the races. And today, not one but three African American actors were nominated for major Oscars: Denzel Washington, Will Smith and Halle Berry. Is it a big deal? You better believe it.
For years Oscar — unlike other awards — has been color-blind in the worst way. Black actors and directors have been routinely snubbed over the years. The worst case was Spike Lee, who has been totally ignored as best director for Do the Right Thing, Clockers and Malcolm X.
Halle Berry has scored quite a victory with her nomination for Monster's Ball. The last African American woman to be nominated was Angela Bassett, in 1994, for playing Tina Turner in What's Love Got to Do With It. The only black actresses to have won awards are Whoopi Goldberg, for best supporting actress, in 1990's Ghost, and Hattie McDaniel for Gone with the Wind in 1939. For Berry, the nomination is significant in so many ways. She should revel in the success.
As for Denzel and Will Smith: In the case of the latter, his portrayal of Muhammad Ali was a big deal and now he's been rewarded. But for Washington, this nomination should carry him to a win.
A winner in 1989 for best supporting actor in Glory, Denzel has had tremendous performances in Cry Freedom, Malcolm X, The Hurricane, Courage Under Fire and Remember the Titans. But in each case something or someone has gotten in the way. His rogue cop in Training Day is a stand out, and I think the Academy has no choice but to acknowledge him at last. What's really nice about this nomination is that it wasn't alone: Washington's partner in the film, Ethan Hawke, was honored as well. I think that shows the strength of the voting.
In the other Oscar categories there are few surprises. As I predicted, Gosford Park was not only nominated for best picture, but Robert Altman made the short list of best directors. Altman has been nominated in the past for MASH, Nashville, The Player and Short Cuts. But this fifth nomination should be the one. How can the Academy deny this Hollywood trailblazer an award at this point? For Gosford Park, this specifically American director went abroad to the United Kingdom and worked with an all English cast on location. His work produced two best supporting actress nominations, plus nods in costume, art direction, and original screenplay. It's Altman’s turn, without a doubt.
How many so-called Oscar experts included Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down and David Lynch's Mulholland Drive on their list of best picture nominees? Many. I won't go into the names, but these people ranted and raved all winter about this pair of films, and they are not on the list — as I predicted.
Especially interesting is that the best indicator of the Academy Award nominees has become the Screen Actors Guild awards. Watch now as this award ceremony starts to eclipse the others as a power player in predictions.
Like a lot of people this morning, I watched the nominees get announced on the E! channel. The question is, why? Those anchors from that show seemed to know as much about the Oscars as they probably do about baseball. One of them, Tom O'Neill, runs something called GoldDerby.com, which regularly emails me their predictions and insights. Boy oh boy, to read through that thing now is really funny. One of the participants in that thing really went way out onto several limbs and then watched them get sawed off! Oh well, the betting should be a lot more close to the vest in this last round.