Jennifer Hudson’s name is already written in the Academy Awards history books. At 25, she became the youngest Black woman to ever win an acting Oscar for her turn as Effie White in “Dreamgirls” (2006). She’s also the first to do it for a debut role. Her work in the Aretha Franklin biopic “Respect” has her contending for two possible Oscar nominations: lead actress and original song, for the track “Here I Am (Singing My Way Home),” co-written by Carole King and Jamie Alexander Hartman. Already a Tony Award away from EGOT status, she could break another record if she lands those two coveted noms.
Hudson would be the first Black woman to be nominated in three individual categories if she snags both nods. Only three Black women have been recognized in two individual categories: Viola Davis, Whoopi Goldberg (actress and supporting actress) and Oprah Winfrey (supporting actress and best picture). For comparison, Warren Beatty and George Clooney have been nominated in six. When it comes to Black men, Spike Lee has been acknowledged in five, winning in adapted screenplay for “BlacKkKlansman” (2018).
Dual noms for Hudson would also mark the third time a Black woman has received multiple nominations in the same year. The first two were Mary J. Blige (nominated for supporting actress and for the song “Mighty River” from “Mudbound”) and Cynthia Erivo (nominated for lead actress and for the song “Stand Up” from “Harriet”). They’re not only the first Black women to achieve this feat, but also the first by anyone in Academy history.
Hudson’s possible recognition isn’t significant merely for herself; a nod in best actress would represent a historical accomplishment for her “Respect” director Liesl Tommy. Tommy would be only the second Black woman to direct a Black leading actor or actress to a nomination (behind Erivo by Lemmons). Noteworthy, when you add Leslie Odom Jr.’s double noms for the song “Speak Now” and supporting actor for his turn in “One Night in Miami” from Regina King last year, the three talents recognized for acting and song, have all been directed by Black women.
Although we see improvements in representation for POC in the Academy, the showing for Black women is among its most notable shortcomings. There have been just over 3,100 Oscar statuettes handed out in 93 years. Of that, only 17 were awarded to Black women. Again, for comparison, one man, Walt Disney, was rewarded with 26 Oscars from 1932 to 1969, nine more than the total number of Black women from 1929 to 2021. Additionally, two Black women have been granted honorary statuettes (Winfrey and Cicely Tyson). Disney himself was given four (even one that had seven miniature Oscars on it for “Snow White”).
Hudson’s turn as the Queen of Soul has many devoted fans among awards groups. However, recency bias and mixed reviews have created significant hurdles for “Respect’s” awards prospects. Opening in mid-August, three weeks before Venice and Telluride, the positive buzz for the movie was swallowed up by premieres of more prominent titles. And with the releases of fellow MGM/United Artists Releasing counterparts “House of Gucci” and “Licorice Pizza,” both of which had better reviews and box office, “Respect” seemed to have become an awards season afterthought.
That struggle for buzz changed with the Oscars shortlist announcement, where “Here I Am” was among the 15 songs still in contention for original song. Earlier this month, Hudsons also scored a surprise SAG nod, securing a spot over presumed best actress frontrunner Kristen Stewart (“Spencer”). With Hudson’s buzz and prospects revived, she’s within arm’s reach of making history. We’re days from Oscar nomination voting opening, which begins on Thursday, Jan. 27, and ends on Tuesday, Feb. 1.
94 years later, Black women are still the strongest beings on our planet, continuously shattering ceilings despite the obstacles laid out in front of them. Even if Hudson comes up short, to reference Halle Berry, the only Black woman to ever win best actress, who said earlier this season, “awards do not define our worth.”