In the 85 years of Oscar, there has never been, in any particular acting category, more than two black performers nominated in the same year. That has happened about ten times, the last time in 2006. This year there’s a chance that that record will be broken, in Best Supporting Actress. It appears a lock that the record will at least be equaled.
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle: The popular star follows up her Oscar-winning year with the sure to be a smash hit Hunger Games sequel and this small role in another David O. Russell film as a tough-talking dame. Right now it appears she can do no wrong.
Lupita Nyong’O, 12 Years a Slave: Lots of high praise so far for this actress. I’m seeing the film this weekend–don’t know much about her role. Apparently she’s in a brutal rape scene.
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County: Roberts hasn’t been nominated since her win for Erin Brockovich thirteen years ago. She may suffer from category confusion here–it’s a role that is on par with Meryl Streep’s, but the studio may push for Supporting for her, and she may fall through the cracks.
Octavia Spencer, Fruitvale Station: This is the nomination that would set the record, and it’s iffy right now. The movie seems to have not gained much traction, and will need precursors to emerge as an Oscar contender. She’s very good, though.
Oprah Winfrey, Lee Daniels’ The Butler: The performance is nothing special, and it’s an almost superfluous role to the film, but she is Oprah. She was nominated for The Color Purple, the last time two black performers were nominated for Best Supporting Actress (the other was her co-star, Margaret Avery, who is now forgotten). Right now, she may actually be the front-runner, at least until someone else grabs attention.
Also conceivable: Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine; June Squibb, Nebraska; Jennifer Garner, Dallas Buyers Club; Sarah Paulson, 12 Years a Slave; Margo Martindale, August: Osage County.