"Denzel Washington was already on course," he said. "What about Halle Berry? She did Catwoman, which she never should have done. But what is she being offered?"
To director Ron Shelton, whose White Men Can't Jump catapulted Wesley Snipes into mainstream stardom, the real change won't come until there are top black executives at studios. "All this black talent - and there's nobody in the power and decision-making positions?" he said. "It shocks me. The movie industry makes the National Football League look good - at least there are some black executives and former players in positions of prominence."
Still, films with predominantly African-American casts instead of mixed casts like Collateral continue to slam into roadblocks because they haven't drawn huge audiences in the foreign markets where studios make much of their profit. Executives routinely refer to a "BPB" - a "black people's budget" - that could be $20 million less than a "normal" budget because of overseas sales.
But Oscar recognition may encourage the more adventurous white directors to keep taking rewarding risks with casting.
For last year's Twisted, director Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff) was uncharacteristically hesitant to cast an African-American as an obsessive killer for fear of rousing memories of the O.J. Simpson trial. But Samuel L. Jackson himself went after the role, asking, "Are you going to deny me the right to play a villain?"
Kaufman said that now "the public perceives that this kind of casting gives your property more strength - and by opening yourself up to African-Americans you often get to work with better actors."
African-American actors get top nominations
Don Cheadle: Best actor, "Hotel Rwanda"
Jamie Foxx: Best actor, "Ray"; Best supporting actor, "Collateral"
Morgan Freeman: Best supporting actor, "Million Dollar Baby"