When the nominations for the 2023 Oscars were announced on Tuesday (Jan. 24), just one Black woman was among the 10 women nominated in acting categories – Angela Bassett for best supporting actress for her role in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
Viola Davis in The Woman King and Danielle Deadwyler in Till were thought to have a strong chance of being nominated for best actress, but both were passed over – a fact that has stirred some controversy, such as this pointed commentary in The Los Angeles Times on Thursday (Jan. 26).
Black women fared much better in the marquee categories in the 2023 Grammy nominations, which were announced on Nov. 15. Three Black women were among the 10 lead artists nominated for album of the year, widely viewed as the most prestigious Grammy Award – Beyoncé for Renaissance, Lizzo for Special and Mary J. Blige for the deluxe edition of Good Morning Gorgeous.
Beyoncé is regarded as the front-winner to win in that category, after having lost in her three previous bids. I Am…Sasha Fierce lost to Taylor Swift’s Fearless; Beyoncé to Beck’s Morning Phase; and Lemonade to Adele’s 25.
Oscar and Grammy voters have not always been generous to Black women. Only one Black woman has won the Oscar for best actress – Halle Berry for Monster’s Ball (2001). Amazingly, you have to go back even further than that to find the last Black woman to win the Grammy for album of the year as a lead artist. It hasn’t happened since Lauryn Hill took the 1998 prize for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
Black women have fared far better at the Oscars in supporting roles than in lead roles, with nine Black actresses winning best supporting actress – Hattie McDaniel in Gone With the Wind (1939), Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost (1990), Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls (2006), Mo’nique in Precious (2009), Octavia Spencer in The Help (2011), Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave (2013), Davis in Fences (2016), Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) and Ariana DeBose in West Side Story (2021).
It’s worth noting that Davis played the female lead in Fences. She had won the Tony for best lead actress in a play for the same role in 2010, but agreed to be slotted in the supporting category at the Oscars to boost her chances of winning. (The lead actress winner that year was Emma Stone – Davis’ former costar in The Help – for the blockbuster La La Land.)
If Beyoncé wins album of the year, she’ll become the fourth Black woman to take that award as a lead artist. Natalie Cole was the first for Unforgettable With Love, a tribute to her late father Nat King Cole (1991), followed by Whitney Houston two years later for The Bodyguard soundtrack and then Hill five years after that.
The perception of disrespect for Black women in this year’s best actress nominations will probably work to Bassett’s advantage in the voting. She is seen as the front-runner to win best supporting actress, 29 years after she was nominated for best actress for playing Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It. She would become the 10th Black woman to win best supporting actress; the eighth in the past two decades.
The way that Black women can fairly easily win Oscars in the supporting category, but have a hard time winning in the lead category, is analogous to a situation at the Grammys, where Black women (and men, for that matter) do very well in terms of numbers of overall awards, but less well in the vaunted Big Four categories.
Beyoncé is one of only three artists in Grammy history to amass 28 or more Grammys, but just one of those awards has come in a Big Four category – her 2009 song of the year win for “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).”
At this year’s Grammys, she is likely to tie or surpass Sir Georg Solti for the most wins by anyone in Grammy history. (The late classical conductor won 31 awards.) While that statistic is likely to grab the headlines, her expected win for album of the year – the biggest of the Big Four categories – may be even more significant.