Viola Davis and Andra Day
HERstory making

Viola Davis and Andra Day compete for Best Actress in the 2021 Oscars

For the second time in history, two Black women compete in this category

For the second time in the 93 year history of the Academy Awards, two Black women compete in the category for Best Actress. Actress Viola Davis earned her fourth Oscar nomination for her performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. In contrast, singer and actress Andra Day is nominated for The United States vs. Billie Holiday.

Viola Davis and Andra Day©YouTube
Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Andra Day in The United States vs. Billie Holiday

To date, Viola Davis is the most-nominated Black actress ever; however, in nine decades, only 13 Black women have ever been nominated for Best Actress, and one took the award home. “For me, it’s a reflection of the lack of opportunities and access to opportunities people of color have had in this business,” Davis told Variety. “If me, going back to the Oscars four times in 2021, makes me the most nominated Black actress in history, that’s a testament to the sheer lack of material there has been out there for artists of color.”

Forty-eight years ago, in 1973, Cicely Tyson and Diana Ross were nominated for an Oscar, marking the first time two women of color compete for the category. Tyson was up for Sounder, while Ross, for the film Lady Sings the Blues, a 1972 biographical drama film about Billie Holiday.

Diana Ross in Lady Sings the Blues©Netflix
Diana Ross portraying Billy Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues

The movie launched the 76-year old icon’s career as a lead actress. Diana Ross was the first Black woman who received an Oscar nomination for a debut film; however, neither actresses won that night. In 2002, Halle Berry became the first Black woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress.

The Academy refuses to break the tradition a will be hosting guests and taking the necessary precautions for the 2021 event. The long-awaited awards will be broadcasted live from the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles on April 25.

“In this unique year that has asked so much of so many, the Academy is determined to present an Oscars like none other, while prioritizing the public health and safety of all those who will participate,” a spokesperson said in a press release. “To create the in-person show our global audience wants to see while adapting to the requirements of the pandemic, the ceremony will broadcast live from multiple locations, including the landmark Dolby Theatre. We look forward to sharing more details soon.”

Director Steven Soderbergh is producing this year’s Oscars ceremony. Academy president David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson called it “the perfect occasion for innovation and for re-envisioning the possibilities for the awards show.”

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