Dorothy Dandridge, Diana Ross, Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Whoopi Goldberg, Angela Bassett, Halle Berry, Gabourey Sidibe, Viola Davis, Quvenzhané Wallis, Ruth Negga, Cynthia Erivo, and Andra Day. Over nearly a century of the existence of the Academy Awards, only thirteen Black women have ever been nominated for Best Actress. Of the thirteen, only one has won the Academy Award: Halle Berry for “Monster’s Ball.” Berry won back in 2001, and at the time, it seemed that the Academy was taking steps to become more progressive in its selections. However, for the past two decades, it can be argued that they perhaps regressed back to sticking to their more “traditional” choices even when worthy options were put in front of them.
Even in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, we have only seen white women win the Oscar for Best Actress, and with each passing year, the outcry is becoming bigger and louder. Mind you, there is no ill will towards the women who have won. They gave incredible performances worthy of recognition which they already received with their nominations. Still, it feels disheartening not to see women of color, especially Black women, recognized for their work just as much as their peers.
However, something feels different about this year with Danielle Deadwyler. She is starring as Mamie Till-Mobley in Chinonye Chukwu’s “Till.” The film just premiered at the New York Film Festival to rave reviews for her incredible performance. Numerous pundits now expect an Oscar nomination for her in the Best Actress category, with some (including NBP’s own Matt Neglia) expecting her to win. However, a few things must fall into place for her to become the second Black actress to win the Oscar since Halle Berry. Unfortunately, the Academy rarely ever rewards a performance on its own merit and there are always numerous other factors to consider. Some of these are obvious, such as the individual’s standing within the industry amongst their peers, whether or not their film has been seen (and well-received). But looking at previous years can help us identify trends which could also fall in Deadwyler’s favor.
First, if Deadwyler is going to win, she cannot be the only Oscar nomination for “Till” come nomination morning. If she is, then to give herself the best possible shot at winning, she needs to sweep the major televised awards (Critics Choice, Golden Globe, SAG & BAFTA). This is purely a matter of stats, but the numbers don’t lie. Looking over the Best Actress category since 1994 (when the SAG awards began), Jessica Lange for “Blue Sky” (1994), Charlize Theron for “Monster” (2003), and Juliane Moore for “Still Alce” (2014) are the only Best Actress Oscar winners to have won as the sole nominees from their films. Moore won the Oscar by sweeping Critics Choice, Golden Globe, SAG, and BAFTA on her way to the Oscar. However, Lange and Theron did not, as the former only won the Golden Globe while the latter won only Critics Choice and SAG. This is all to say, it’s not impossible for Deadwyler to repeat what these other women did, but what would make her more secur in the race for a win is if her film had another nomination besides her.
For “Till” to be nominated for Best Picture, many films would have to move out of the way for that film to get across the threshold and into the final ten slots. But with a year so competitive and stacked in most categories, it will be a bloodbath to see who will rise to the top. I believe “Till” could receive at least three Oscar nominations, Best Picture being one of them, considering its emotional power and historical significance as a film that tastefully teaches a new generation about the horrors surrounding Emmet Till’s murder and why it should not be forgotten.
Assuming Deadwyler will be one of the film’s Oscar nominations, one of the other nominations could come in the form of the original song for “Stand Up” written by Jazmine Sullivan. Sullivan is having a great year coming off of a Grammy win and working on Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis,” so it makes sense for the momentum to continue to get her a nomination. The score by Abel Korzeniowski (“Nocturnal Animals“) has also received some notice from the early wave of reviews as it elicits an emotional response from the viewer. These would all help Deadwyler’s cause, for the more nominations a film receives, the more voters are likely to see it.
However, if Deadwyler is going to win Best Actress, what would really help secure her chances would be the film receiving a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Currently, “Till” (according to Next Best Picture) is slated to be campaigned in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. This is a huge advantage because this is a particularly flexible category this year, with not a lot of competition. Other than Best Picture, one of the screenplay categories is the best category one could land in to help ensure more voters see the film you’re nominated for. Sixteen of the last twenty-eight Best Actress winners had their films nominated for either Best Picture, Best Original or Adapted Screenplay. The next best nomination to receive alongside the Best Actress nomination is Best Director with fifteen, followed by any other acting categories with fourteen.
Obviously, a Best Picture nomination alongside Best Adapted Screenplay would be Deadwyler’s best outcome. But looking at screenplay specifically, it can be inferred that the Best Original Screenplay nomination was most likely the biggest factor that helped Berry to win her Oscar. Deadwyler’s chances would rise tremendously (from a stats standpoint) if “Till” were to receive a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination (assuming it doesn’t receive a Best Picture nomination). Before that, though, she must receive a nomination at every precursor mentioned before and win at either SAG or BAFTA. Berry was nominated everywhere (minus Critic’s Choice because it did not exist at the time, though she likely would’ve been) and won at SAG. Since the voters at SAG have a huge crossover with Academy voters, it is safe to assume that her win at SAG foreshadowed her Oscar win, as did Jessica Chastain’s last year for “The Eyes Of Tammy Faye” (whose additional Oscar nomination was for Best Makeup & Hairstyling).
Another thing that helped Berry win was the competition she was facing. Nominated alongside Berry was Judi Dench (“Iris”), Sissy Spacek (“In The Bedroom”), Nicole Kidman (“Moulin Rouge!“), and Renée Zellwegger (“Bridget Jones’s Diary”). Spacek and Dench were both already Oscar winners in years prior, and Kidman and Zellwegger were relatively new on the scene during this time (both went on to win Oscars years later). Halle Berry was already moderately established in the industry, appearing in blockbuster films such as “X-Men” (2000) and “Swordfish” earlier that year. She even won an Emmy Award a couple of years prior for her work in “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” When Berry was nominated, it was the perfect time with the right film to recognize her for her work.
A similar thing is happening with Deadwyler, especially since she has captured our attention from her turn in Netflix’s “The Harder They Fall” and the HBO limited series “Station Eleven.” Although the Best Actress field is crowded, her biggest competition would appear to be Cate Blanchett (“Tar“), Michelle Yeoh (“Everything Everywhere All At Once“), Margot Robbie (“Babylon“), and Michelle Williams (“The Fabelmans“) according to Next Best Picture’s rankings. Cate Blanchett already has two Oscars to her name, and it seems difficult to tell if the Academy is willing to give her a third one (although that didn’t stop them from giving Meryl Streep or Frances McDormand three Oscars). Michelle Williams’s performance in “The Fabelmans” is more of a supporting one that seems to be committing category fraud and is still a big question mark in the race. She will have a difficult enough time just earning the nomination in the category, and there’s no guarantee voters will follow suit as they may place her back in Best Supporting Actress any way. That leaves Yeoh and Robbie. Since no one has seen “Babylon,” it is too early to tell how Robbie shapes up in the race (she also might switch categories and end up in supporting when all is said and done). However, Yeoh has been gradually climbing up in the odds for this race. She is giving a career-best performance in “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” and considering how beloved she is in the industry, some may feel it is time to honor her. However, I personally believe that the nomination will be the win for her. Also, suppose Ke Huy Quan wins in his category for Best Supporting Actor, with such competitive acting races in all four categories. In that case, I feel the Academy will want to spread the love and not award more than one acting Oscar to the movie.
One other thing that could help Deadwyler (other than sweeping, of course) is if the race is split amongst the major precursors. This is true for any actress in any year as it was for Chastain last year, as someone else won the Golden Globe and BAFTA (she won at CCA and SAG). Usually, if any actress wins more than one of the major televised awards, then that actress may be considered the frontrunner. By splitting wins, voters may be forced to make independent decisions on the ballot rather than just relying on word of mouth and name-checking whoever has previously been winning every award in sight. If a scenario like that plays out, and “Till” has those other nominations (specifically screenplay) Deadwyler’s odds increase significantly.
Deadwyler’s place in the current Best Actress lineup amongst her competition feels coincidentally parallel to that of Halle Berry in 2001. She will be going up against contenders whose films could be nominated for Best Picture, but maybe “Till” could still crack that lineup as well. Nobody knows anything for certain this early in the Oscar race, so the possibilities of where each of these films will end up with their final nomination haul remains a point of speculation only. The parallel continues even in the roles they play, as both of their movies are centered around their characters who are trying to navigate life after the death of their sons. “Monster’s Ball” had a fall film festival premiere at AFI while “Till” had its at NYFF. If Danielle Deadwyler is nominated everywhere she needs to be, wins at either SAG or BAFTA (or both), and the film receives another nomination on top of Best Actress, then I think she could join Halle Berry, and we’ll finally have our second Black Best Actress Oscar winner.
Did you see “Till” at NYFF? If so, are you planning on seeing it? What do you think are Danielle Deadwyler’s chances of being nominated and winning the Oscar for Best Actress? Please check out the Next Best Picture team’s Oscar predictions here and let us know your thoughts either in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.