Best Actress: Leading Women of Color Not Contending for Oscars – Why?

Coming up on the 20th anniversary of Halle Berry’s historic best actress win in 2002, we’re still looking for a second woman of color to join her.

Now that the big four fall festivals — Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York — are over, only a few women of color are contenders in the actress race. And it’s possible that none of them will make the cut when the Oscar nominations are announced in February. (Last winter marked only the second time in Academy Awards history that two Black women — Viola Davis and Andra Day — were nominated for best actress in the same year.)

So who is in the running for 2022? Berry, who won her Oscar for playing a waitress in “Monster’s Ball,” is making her directorial debut with “Bruised,” in which she stars as an MMA fighter seeking redemption. Can she direct herself to a second statuette? After the film premiered as a work in progress in Toronto in 2020, Netflix acquired it and worked hand in hand with Berry in the editing room to finish it. A new cut is set to premiere at AFI before the movie’s Nov. 24 release.

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Courtesy of TIFF

Jennifer Hudson, who won a supporting actress Oscar in 2007 for “Dreamgirls,” wowed critics with her portrayal as Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, in Liesl Tommy’s debut film, “Respect.” While Hudson looked like a sure thing in late August, the buzz for the United Artists-MGM flick has quieted down some. However, with the added benefit of competing in the original song category with “Here I Am (Singing My Way Home),” which Hudson co-wrote, the movie could stay on voters’ radars.

The issue with handicapping contenders is there often are many worthy candidates, but the Academy doesn’t tend to look in unexpected places. That’s the case for Tessa Thompson (an Afro-Latina), who delivers a vigorous, aching turn in Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut, “Passing,” opposite Ruth Negga. Recognition from critics’ groups could help her chances.

There are worthy Latinas in smaller features if the voters look beyond their typical Oscar-fodder circle. Natalie Morales, best known as Lucy Santo Domingo on TV’s “Parks and Recreation,” writes, directs and stars in the deliciously charming “Language Lessons.” It’s almost impossible for tiny distributors such as Shout! Factory to compete with streamers and big studios, who have deep pockets, but they’re still banging the drum to get their star pupils recognized.

A handful of unknowns also are waiting in the wings to shake things up. Among the most anticipated: Rachel Zegler, who makes her movie debut as Maria in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake, which looks divine based on the trailers.

Berry’s winning counterpart from 2002, Denzel Washington (“Training Day”), is not just a contender for best actor for “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” He’s also directing the heartbreaking true story “A Journal for Jordan,” with Michael B. Jordan and Chanté Adams in a possible star-making performance.

Judging by the current landscape, pending a mid-season surprise, the wait for a woman of color to win best actress will have us wishing a bit longer.

2022 Academy Awards Predictions

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