Is Oscar white?

Three African American actors have been nominated in lead-acting Oscar categories this year, and the president of Reno’s NAACP, Lonnie Feemster, says the move is overdue.

“To go 30 years without getting African-Americans [awards] in lead roles indicates lost ground in cultural awareness,” Feemster says. “We started to make progress in the ‘60s but it seems people fell asleep at the wheel.”

This year’s nominees include Halle Berry for best actress in Monster’s Ball, Will Smith for best actor in Ali and Denzel Washington for best actor in Training Day. Washington’s been nominated before—five times in fact—including once for his role in Malcolm X.

African-American actresses and actors were first nominated for lead roles in 1972. The three contenders were Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield in Sounder and Diana Ross in Lady Sings the Blues. None of the three won an award.

Only six of 278 Oscars for acting have been awarded to African- American actors, nearly all for supporting roles.

So … racism in the Academy?

“It’s favoritism, not racism,” says Reno film guru and university art professor Howard Rosenberg. “The 5,000 Academy members are going to vote for their own. It’s the politics of Hollywood.”

Rosenberg, who has interviewed Denzel Washington, says the actor gives good but predictable performances.

“Is he a Dustin Hoffman? No. When I watch Hoffman, I don’t know who he is. He disappears into character. Washington is not there yet.”

Even if Berry, Smith or Washington don’t win this year, at least one black actor will be taking an Oscar home. Sidney Poitier will receive an honorary award for lifetime achievement.