#OscarsSoWhite | Academy Award-Worthy Actors of Color from 2015

The nominees for the 88th Academy Awards were announced this morning at 5:30 a.m. PST, and as with most years, the shocks were only minor. The second biggest suprise might have been the overwhelming inclusion of George Miller’s badass actioner Max Max: Fury Road in many major categories. Such crowd-pleasing action films are rarely nominated for Best Picture; the absence of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is an indicator of this. 

The biggest surprise, though – and it’s a disappointment that everyone is feeling – must be the staggering lack of people of color in all categories. All of the Best Actor and Best Actress nominees, in both the lead and supporting categories, are white, white, white. The only non-white person in the directing category is The Revenant‘s Alejandro González Iñárritu. The only nominees for the Straight Outta Compton, a film about N.W.A. of all things, are also white. There’s a reason why #OscarsSoWhite is a trending hashtag. It’s because, well… #OscarsSoWhite.

Related: F. Gary Gray on Straight Outta Compton

The Academy frequently likes to tout how diverse they are by nominating at least one notable non-white person here and there (if I may affect a cynical tone), but this year, there isn’t even any token diversity. Which is a pity, because there are many critically acclaimed, popular, well-regarded, and outwardly celebrated 2015 films that feature non-white characters, which were certainly Oscar-worthy.

As a reminder to the Academy, here is a list of notable performances from non-white actors from 2015 that they seem to have overlooked. 


Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson in Creed

Warner Bros.

Michael B. Jordan’s underdog story wasn’t just about boxing, it was about taking a long-running and beloved series about Rocky Balboa and transferring it to a new generation. His performance as the son of Apollo Creed has all the necessary rage, but also all the insight needed to play a young man desperately trying to forge his own identity, even under the shadow of the great people who came before him. Matching him punch for emotional punch is Tessa Thompson, in a smallish role (but no smaller than Rachel McAdams in Spotlight, who actually got a nomination) as an artist who is also desperate to make her mark, but who has fewer advantages than Creed. Together they make Ryan Coogler’s film more than just a Rocky spin-off. They make it new. ~ Contributed by William Bibbiani


Will Smith in Concussion

Columbia Pictures

As the real-life Dr. Bennet Omalu, Will Smith captured a strange balance between outrage and whimsy in the pretty good Concussion, a film about the discovery of traumatic brain injuries in the NFL. Will Smith is a charming man, an endlessly appealing screen presence, and he managed to – as usual – infuse his character with a natural sympathy without betraying his bottomless pit of compassion. What’s more, the film tackles an important real-life issue; the way we vaunt football stars on the field, and tend to cast them aside once they’re off of it. In the modern age, they are almost like veterans. 


Idris Elba and Abraham Attah in Beasts of No Nation


As a Netflix Original, Cary Fukunaga’s harsh and powerful Beasts of No Nation may have slipped under the Academy’s radar, but that’s doubtful. Firstly, it qualified for the awards and secondly, the Screen Actors Guild (a very large voting body within the Academy) nominated it for Best Ensemble Cast and Best Supporting Actor. Certainly Idris Elba steals this film as the leader of a child soldier battalion, whose job consists of constant emotional manipulation, turning him into a vile new form of Fagin from Oliver Twist. But credit should also be given to child actor Abraham Attah, who through most of the film responds to Elba’s cajolings the way any child would, only to turn the whole performance on its head with a climactic speech which reveals the impressive depth of his talent. ~ Contributed by William Bibbiani


Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor in Tangerine


The two lead actresses from Sean Baker’s immediate and frantic indie comedy Tangerine are both non-professional trans women whose lack of experience turns them into a refreshingly direct and startlingly real characters. The two of them storm around the dingier, oft-unfilmed streets of Los Angeles, unguarded, unaffected, and totally honest. These women were both important, raw discoveries, and Tangerine was hailed by many critics as one of the best films of the year. Where is it in the Oscar nominations? Elsewhere. 


The Ensemble Cast of Straight Outta Compton

Universal Pictures

One of the biggest films of the year covers a watershed moment in both the music industry and culture in general. The release of the 1988 record Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A was a declaration of a new type of music – created almost exclusively by black people – moving into the popular fore. The entire ensemble cast – playing younger versions of luminaries like Dr. Dre and Ice Cube – were all real and striking and excellent. I suppose the Academy either needed a Best Ensemble category, or they just thought that Straight Outta Compton wasn’t that good after all. 


Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina


One of the hottest rising stars in Hollywood, Oscar Isaac (born Óscar Isaac Hernández Estrada, to a Guatemalan mother and a Cuban father) may be everyone’s biggest crush right now because of his dashing turn in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But earlier this year he captivated us in a very different sci-fi film, about a billionaire inventor with a god complex who invents an artificially intelligent female robot, played by Alicia Vikander. The Oscar-nominated screenplay by Alex Garland affords Isaac the opportunity to ponder the ineffable – the nature of the human mind, and the enigmas of womanhood – all while brutishly posturing for his guinea pig, played by Domhnall Gleeson. In Ex Machina, Isaac offers a warped and wholly new interpretation of Doctor Frankenstein, and he dances like a badass, but the Academy failed to recognize any of the amazing performances in Ex Machina whatsoever. ~ Contributed by William Bibbiani


Teyonah Parris in Chi-Raq

Roadside Attractions

In the year of Black Lives Matter, this oversight is the most glaring of all. Spike Lee may have received an honorary Oscar this year, but his new film Chi-Raq – about gang violence in Chicago – was shut out entirely. The film is also, rather boldly, an adaptation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, a play about how the women of Greece go on a sex strike to end the war perpetrated by men. In the lead role, Teyonah Parris is an appealing, funny, resolute, sexy, immanantly watchable performer who manages to mine Chi-Raq for all its inherent humor without losing sight of Spike Lee’s overwhelming messages of a nation gone wrong with violence, greed, ignorance, and poverty. All of society is responsible for gang violence, and Chi-Raq explores that brilliantly. And then the Academy didn’t look at it. 


Samuel L. Jackson in The Hateful Eight

The Weinstein Company

Jennifer Jason Leigh may have received an Oscar nomination for The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino’s scathing potboiler about racial tensions in post-Civil War America (as well as today). But although she gives a fine performance, credit is also due to Samuel L. Jackson who – once again – turns in a masterful performance in a Tarantino Joint. He plays Major Marquis Warren, a bounty hunter and former Civil War hero who plays the hand he’s dealt and, when necessary, also cheats. It’s a performance that demands both dignity and depravity from Jackson, who turns out to be (if anybody is) the film’s de facto protagonist… even when you learn to hate him. A rich and textured performance, anchored by one of the most unforgettable and unsettling speeches any actor has had in years. ~ Contributed by William Bibbiani


Benicio Del Toro in Sicario


I know what you’re going to say. Benicio Del Toro has an Oscar already. But so does Eddie Redmayne. As do several of the other nominees. Benicio Del Toro was the key to the heart of Sicario, and his assassin character was amazing to behold. 

Top Image: Magnolia Pictures

Witney Seibold is a contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. He also contributes to Legion of Leia, and Blumhouse. You can follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.


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