February 15, 2002 11:14 AM

It wasn’t only statisticians who took notice of this week’s Academy Award nominations. But they also certainly registered with the African-American acting community, who had made their best Oscar showing in nearly 30 years, points out Philadelphia Inquirer film critic Carrie Rickey. Will Smith, star of “Ali,” Denzel Washington, of “Training Day,” and Halle Berry of “Monster’s Ball” filled three of the slots for leading actors, a dramatic reversal after the so-called “blackout” of 1995, when out of 166 nominees, only one — the director of a short subject film — was a person of color. “African- Americans make up 13 percent of the population and in the Best Actor category we represent 40 percent of the nominees, and in (Best) Actress we represent 20 percent. So we did OK,” Rickey quotes Smith, 33, as saying in Sydney, Australia, where “Ali” is set to premiere next week. The recognition for Berry, Smith and Washington marks the first time in 29 years that there have been so many nominations for African-American leading actors. In 1973, Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield were up for the Oscar for their roles in director Martin Ritt’s “Sounder,” while Diana Ross was cited for the Billie Holiday biopic “Lady Sings the Blues” (though the eventual winners were Liza Minnelli for “Cabaret” and Marlon Brando for “The Godfather”). Another banner year, notes Rickey, was 1986, when “The Color Purple” earned nods for lead actress Whoopi Goldberg and supporting actresses Margaret Avery and Oprah Winfrey. The winners that year: Geraldine Page in “A Trip to Bountiful” and Anjelica Huston for “Prizzi’s Honor.”

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