More than two decades have passed since the Academy Award for Best Non-White Actress. Will this change in 2023?

In the following years, more non-white women received Best Actress nominations, including The Beasts of the Wild Southby Quvenzhané Wallis, Magnetthis is Ruth Negga, Harrietby Cynthia Erivo and USA vs. Billie Holidayis Andra’s day. However, the victories proved elusive. They came, instead, in the Best Supporting Actress category for the likes of Jennifer Hudson (dream girls), Mo’Nique (Precious), Octavia Spencer (Ugly), Lupita Nyong’o (12 years of slavery), Viola Davis (Fences), Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), Yuh-Jung Youn (to pain) and, most recently, Ariana DeBose (West Side Story). This was seen by some as progress, but the question remained: why did the wins of women of color seem more acceptable at the Academy when they were relegated to the support category?

This question was even more powerful considering that some of these performances – notably that of Davis in Fences – were ostensibly head-turners who campaigned in support. They contrast sharply with, say, Michelle Williams’ performance in 2022 The Fabelmanswho many expected to campaign in the Best Supporting Actress category, but instead was featured in the Best Actress category and earned the actor an Oscar nod.

There was a moment early last year, before the start of the campaign, that raised hopes that the narrative would be different at the 2023 Oscars: the industry talk surrounding Chinonye’s impending release Chukwu Until and the mainstream wisdom that its accomplished lead, Danielle Deadwyler, could very well land the Best Actress award. Then other favorites emerged: not only Yeoh, but also Viola Davis for The female king. For the first time, it looked like there might be more contenders for Best Actress of Color than not. But unfortunately that was not the case. After a last minute A-list driven campaign for To LeslieAndrea Riseborough made the shortlist, as did Ana de Armas for the division Blond – and Deadwyler and Davis were left out. Yeoh was the only non-white hope.

Her awards season so far has been something of a rollercoaster: Yeoh won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy, giving a triumphant speech about the ‘amazing fight’ it took to get to this point in his career, but then lost out at the Critics’ Choice Awards and BAFTAs for WarehouseIt’s Cate Blanchett. That SAG win was crucial, though — over the past decade, SAG Best Actress recipients have aligned themselves with Academy Picks eight times (the two times it didn’t, races were particularly close: Glenn Close vs. Olivia Colman in 2019, and Viola Davis vs. Frances McDormand in 2021.) That means Yeoh and Blanchett are now neck and neck as the Oscars approach, and everyone’s guessing who’s will fly away in the last days of the vote. However, there’s no denying that a win for Yeoh would be both supremely deserved and infinitely more meaningful.

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