monique-oscar-500x612*After several depressing decades of fine African-American performances being overlooked come Oscar time, the new millennium has seen the awards and nominations at the Academy fall like rain.

Halle Berry, Morgan Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Hudson, Octavia Spencer and Mo’Nique picked up Oscars, and Viola Davis, Djimon Honsou, Quvenzhane Wallis, Gabourey Sidobe and Taraji P. Henson all broke through.  It certainly looks like this year should continue this upward swing.

Hollywood’s given us a banner year for African-American performances, With The Butler’s boffo box office and positive critical reception, Forest Whitaker is a lock to receive his second Best Actor nomination; don’t count on him winning, though, with a loaded field around him – one that should include Twelve Years a Slave’s remarkable Chiwetel Ejiofor, who is probably the favorite for the award at this point. This field could also easily include Idris Elba in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom or Michael B. Jordan for his breakout role in Fruitvale Station. Four potential nominees is one remarkable accomplishment.  Sadly, it hasn’t been as strong a year for African-American actresses in the Lead Actress category; Angela Bassett has an outside shot for Black Nativity, but that’s about it.

The supporting categories offer much more opportunities. David Oyelowo could pick a nomination up for The Butler, and the underrated performance from Barkhdad Abdi  as the Somali pirate leader in Captain Phillips also deserves recognition. Meanwhile, in the Supporting Actress category, Oprah Winfrey will get her second nomination for The Butler – and she should be the far-and-away favorite. Go ahead and start thinking about who she’ll thank on Oscar night. The other good news in Supporting? Lupita Nyong’o is guaranteed a nom for her heartbreaking role in Twelve Years a Slave, and Spencer could easily grab another nomination for her supporting turn in Fruitvale Station.

That’s a lot of color added to a ceremony that was very, very bland for a long time. There’s still a long way to go, but it really is nice to see these great actors become recognized on a regular basis; let’s hope this trend continues for all of the Oscar seasons to come.