Will Smith is nominated for Best Actor his for his portrayal of the titular f Richard Williams in the biographical drama, ‘King Richard.’

A powerful time of change in society across the United States has unfolded on screen in films this past year. Not only have Americans bonded together through, and fought back against, COVID-19 as they’ve watched the pandemic heartbreakingly evolve, but they’ve also witnessed the uprise in support of minorities, including those who make movies. The widespread backing of deserving filmmakers of color is powerfully being highlighted in several races of the upcoming 94th Academy Awards ceremony.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the Beverly Hills-based organization that has presented Oscar trophies to worthy filmmakers since its launch in 1927, is proving it’s taking steps in the right direction. That includes following cues from some of this award season’s earlier ceremonies, including the Golden Globes and SAG, and honoring directors and performers of all ethnicities. AMPAS is proving that it’s working to overcome the #OscarsSoWhite social justice campaign that began in 2015, as a result of the fact that all of the nominees in the four acting categories that year were white.

This year’s Academy Awards presentation will recognize excellence in cinematic achievement in movies that were released between March 1 and December 31, 2021. The ceremony will air live on Sunday, March 27, 2022 on ABC from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. The show will be hosted by comediennes Regina Hall, Wanda Sykes and Amy Schumer.

There are several categories in which deserving filmmakers of color are leading the odds to win the Oscar, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress. Having one of the best box office numbers of 2021 (ranked at 11 for worldwide on Box Office Mojo), ‘Dune’ is listed as +1600 to win the Best Picture award at the 94th Academy Awards.

The epic sci-fi drama, which is the second feature adaptation of author Frank Herbert’s 1965 classic novel of the same name, is a powerful reflection on society that contemporary audiences can still relate to and embrace. Like its source material, the latest screen adaptation follows the son of a noble family who’s entrusted with the protection of the most valuable asset and most vital element in the galaxy.

‘Dune,’ which was co-written, helmed and produced by current two-time Oscar nominee, Denis Villeneuve, features an ensemble cast that’s led by Timothée Chalamet. Besides its powerful message, the performances by its diverse supporting cast, including Oscar Isaac, Zendaya, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem, Dave Bautista, Chang Chen, Rebecca Ferguson, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Stephen McKinley Henderson, David Dastmalchian, Sharon Duncan-Brewster and Charlotte Rampling, makes the movie a sure bet to win the Best Picture trophy at this month’s Oscars.

The Best Actor Academy Award race is also set to honor a cast member of color, Will Smith, for his portrayal of the titular character in the biopic, ‘King Richard.’ The drama, which was written by Zach Baylin, directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green and produced by Smith, follows the life of Richard Williams, the father and coach of famed tennis players Venus and Serena Williams.

The actor’s odds for winning the Oscar for his performance currently sits at -330, after he was named Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama at the Golden Globes in January, and garnered the Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role SAG Award last month. If Smith wins the Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of the eponymous Richard Williams in ‘King Richard,’ it will be his first Oscar win out of three nominations; he was previously nominated for Best Actor in 2002 for his performance as the titular boxer Muhammad Ali in the biographical sports drama, ‘Ali,’ and in the same category in 2007 for another biographical drama, ‘The Pursuit of Happyness.’

The Best Supporting Actress Academy Award race is also set to honor another cast member of color, Ariana DeBose, for her portrayal of Anita in the musical romantic drama, ‘West Side Story.’ The movie, which was written by Tony Kushner and directed by Steven Spielberg, is a remake of the classic 1961 feature, which itself won 10 Oscars. The actress is leading the category after she was awarded the Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Golden Globe and the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture SAG Award.

While the past year has been challenging for all aspects of society, as the world is still struggling to stop the spread and effects of COVID-19, the movie industry is slowly but surely rebuilding itself to help people rebuild their lives, and focus on what’s truly important. While the 94th Academy Awards ceremony is only a couple of weeks away, its lasting legacy will surely to help bring people back together, especially if the people of color who rightfully deserve to be honored in their categories. Several respected features and filmmakers, including Smith and DeBose, are likely to hear their names called as the winners on the Dolby Theatre stage during this month’s Oscar ceremony.

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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