Now, this is more like it

Chiwetel Ejiofor, left, plays Solomon Northup in "12 Years a Slave" (Fox Searchlight)
Chiwetel Ejiofor, left, plays Solomon Northup in “12 Years a Slave” (Fox Searchlight)

I started thinking about my end-of-year coverage this week, mostly because thinking about stuff that’s due six weeks from now is easier than thinking about the story that was due yesterday.

I like top 10 lists, but they’re by definition pretty limiting. So I started thinking about doing my Oscar picks the last week of December, after all the eligible films have been released but before the nominations come out. It would be kind of amusing, plus then I wouldn’t have to write an Oscar picks story in March. Win-win!

I started jotting down the names of films and actors I think have a shot at a trophy — not my favorites, necessarily, but those I think can compete. And, slowly, something started to dawn on me: I listed three films about black characters

(“12 Years a Slave,” “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and “Fruitvale Station”) that I think have a good shot at best picture. The directors of those films are black, too (though I don’t think “Fruitvale’s” Ryan Coogler will make the final cut for best director). Chiwetel Ejiofor, Forest Whitaker and Michael B. Jordan all have shots at best actor (though, again, I think “Fruitvale’s” Jordan will just miss a nomination).

The Oscars have been getting more diverse over the years, but not as much as you might think. Last year’s best picture nominees included two films with black major characters: “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “Django Unchained.” Both had white directors. 2012’s nominees included “The Help,” which also had a white director. In 2011, not one of the 10 best picture nominees had a black major character. Zero. That year, toys were better represented than African-Americans.

Assuming I’m right — a dangerous assumption when it comes to the Academy Awards — 2013 could signal a major shift in Oscar history. For example, I think the best supporting actress nominees will include Octavia Spencer, Oprah Winfrey and Lupita Nyong’o. With only two slots left, it’s possible that more black women than white women will get nods in the category — and this by an organization that has nominated black women only 27 times in 85 years.

It’s still early, of course, and there are some very white, very strong-looking movies yet to be released, including “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Nebraska” and “August: Osage County.” And, no matter when I do my picks, I’ll be wildly wrong, because I always am. One thing is certain, though: High-caliber American filmmaking is actually starting to look like America.

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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express · October 24, 2013