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NPR Arts & Life

Oscar Nominees And Diversity


This year's Oscar nominees look different. Four African-American actors have been nominated, along with one British actor of Caribbean descent and one of Ethiopian and Irish descent. And four films with diverse casts are up for best picture - "Moonlight," "Fences," "Lion" and "Hidden Figures." Last year around this time, we spoke with longtime film critic and actor Bobby Rivers about Hollywood and racial diversity. He joins us again from the studios of Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul. Bobby, thanks for being with us.

BOBBY RIVERS: Scott, it's wonderful to be with you again.

SIMON: What do you think brought about this change?

RIVERS: I think it was Cheryl Boone Isaacs, determined to bring inclusion and diversity into the academy. And also it was a very popular hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite - really hit a nerve. And it hit an accurate nerve because it was just so obvious that people of color did good work that was overlooked. And this year, there were a number of landmarks that were made.

The first black person to be nominated for an Oscar and the first black person to win was Hattie McDaniel, best supporting actress for the 1939's is "Gone With The Wind." In all that time, no black actress has had more than two Oscar nominations to her credit. And this week, Viola Davis is now the most Oscar-nominated black actress in Hollywood history with just three nominations. I say just because Jennifer Lawrence is a good actress. She's in her 20s. She's got four. Amy Adams has five. So this is not - it's not about who's more talented. It's about the opportunities that come to actresses of color.

SIMON: But all of that being noted, are the Oscar nominations, in a sense, window dressing for an industry that is not necessarily very diverse?

RIVERS: To a degree, probably so. To a degree, it is maybe Hollywood patting itself on the back, but it gets the attention of people all over the world. And when all of these people all over the world notice that - wait a minute - there is something of gravity in this discussion about diversity and inclusion, then I think it helps.

SIMON: I want to give you a chance to talk about "La La Land."


SIMON: I just saw it. As you know, my wife and I don't get out a lot with two young kids.

RIVERS: (Laughter).

SIMON: So I liked so...

RIVERS: Did you like it?

SIMON: I liked so many things about it, but...

RIVERS: I hear you.

SIMON: Yeah?

RIVERS: Here's how I feel? You know, around the Christmas holidays, you pass a department store window, and you see a big, beautiful Christmas gift box in the window. And then if you open it up, it's full of beautiful, brightly colored tissue paper, and that's all.

SIMON: (Laughter) Yeah.

RIVERS: That's how I felt about "La La Land." Visually? Beautiful. The acting was good. I felt that the screenplay was a C-plus.

SIMON: Yeah.

RIVERS: Now, considering that "La La Land" has now made Oscar history because it got the same amount of nominations as in "All About Eve," do this. Go see "La La Land" and then watch "All About Eve." And which one do you think is a better screenplay?

SIMON: I mean, "All About Eve" - my gosh, that screenplay, the direction, the acting - there's no comparison.

RIVERS: Brilliant, brilliant - all of it.

SIMON: Yeah, exactly. While we have you, couple of films you liked most this year?

RIVERS: Oh, have you seen "Hidden Figures?"

SIMON: No, not yet.

RIVERS: I wish that Taraji P. Henson was in the running for best actress for "Hidden Figures." I saw that movie twice. It's inspiring. It's well-written. It's well acted. I highly recommend that. I just love that. As far as the people I wish had been at the Oscars, you know, I loved what Tom Hanks did as Sully. I thought maybe he'd get in the best actor race. He didn't.

SIMON: Yeah.

RIVERS: Somebody I really loved - Ben Foster in "Hell Or High Water." He has done some good acting for years. I think he's overdue for an Oscar nomination.

SIMON: Bobby Rivers, film critic, interviewer and bon vivant, thanks very much for being with us.

RIVERS: It was wonderful to be with you again, Scott.


CHRIS STAPLETON: (Singing) Cut my teeth on Daddy's old LGO, and I lost my mind somewhere in New Mexico. And T.W... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.