Over the weekend Viola Davis's camp confirmed they were officially aiming for Best Supporting Actress for her work in Fences. This disappoints us since she won the Lead Tony on Broadway for the role and now it seems like we're going to remain ages and ages away from another WOC winning Best Actress. It's been a long time since Halle Berry. Viola will of course become the most nominated black actress at the Oscars ever if she's nominated for Fences (which will be her 3rd nomination) making her the immediate frontrunner.
But let's discuss a less cited but even more impressive (though frustrating) record Viola may break. If Viola is nominated for Fences she becomes not just the most nominated black actress but the most nominated black woman of all time in any category. Viola is currently tied with five other women with two nominations each: most famously Oprah Winfrey (Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress... she also has the non-competitive Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award), Whoopi Goldberg (both for acting), and Ruth E Carter (both times for costume design) who rose up in the 1980s and 1990s. Since the turn of the century three more black women have joined them: Viola, plus Sharen Davis (both times for Costume Design) and Siedah Garrett (both times for Original Song). The only way Viola doesn't keep this record for her own is if Sharen Davis joins her in a tie for most nominated in January. Sharen designed the costumes for Fences and could also be in the mix this year for a third time. Of those six women, only Whoopi has won a competitive Oscar.
P.S. One Last Note: I would like to say that the way sites are reporting on Fences is going to be disturbing us all season. I keep reading sentences like this:
'August Wilson adapted his own play for the screen and beefed up Viola's role'.
As far as we know that is not true unless of course he wrote a screenplay version that collected dust in a drawer before any movie version was planned and before there was even a revival on Broadway that they ended up using a decade later when the movie finally got a greenlight. August Wilson died in October 2005, eleven years ago (five years before Viola and Denzel won their Tony Awards for his classic play). From our understanding the movie version is just the great playwright's revival text again with dramaturgy by Tony Kushner (he's not taking screen credit for "adapting" the transition to the screen... which is probably wise given the sensitive topic of the Oscars not appreciating black artists enough). A posthumous nomination for Wilson seems possible (given the current spin) but it's still odd since he passed away over a decade before the movie began filming.