Amongst the Brad Pitts and Angelina Jolies, who are sure to be the center of attention at Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, lingers a storyline of historic value.

It’s a piece of black history in the making.

Viola Davis and Taraji P. Henson have a lot in common. They’re both talented, black actresses who received Oscar nods this year. They’re competing in the Best Supporting Actress category, and it’s the first Oscar nomination for each.

It’s only the second time in history that multiple black actresses were nominated in the same category. The first was in 1985, when Margaret Avery and Oprah Winfrey were nominated for Best Supporting Actress for their roles in “The Color Purple.”

Neither won.

In the movie “Doubt,” Davis plays a woman who learns her son might be a victim of abuse by a priest. Though her total screen time was only 12 minutes, her performance was powerful enough to land her more than a dozen award nominations so far.

Henson was nominated for her role in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” She plays a maid who finds an abandoned baby (Benjamin Button) and raises him as her own. This role as a strong, loving black woman recently won her the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress.

Davis and Henson aren’t considered A-list names by Hollywood. They’re not people the tabloids follow, tracking their every move. But neither will fans read headlines about any outlandish behavior on their part or stories about their drama-filled personal lives.

Henson, by the way, attended North Carolina A&T, where she started a major in electrical engineering before transferring to Howard University. She worked two jobs in Washington and earned a degree in theater arts.

When you watch the 81st Annual Academy Awards on Sunday, you will see two smart, hard-working black women who have shown that they deserve to be on this high-profile stage. The class and respect they embodied in their work and display in their demeanor will shine for all to see.

With 2009 off to a historic start with the inauguration of President Barack Obama, I can’t help but be excited and hope that one becomes the first black actress to win an Oscar since Jennifer Hudson in 2006.

My picks for some of the major categories are below. When you’re done, check out this slide show at They’ve compiled what they say are the biggest snubs of black stars in Oscar history.

After Sunday, let’s hope they won’t be adding another slide.

Best Picture: “Slumdog Millionaire.” Slumdog has the most momentum of all the best picture nominees. It recently swept the Golden Globes with four awards, including best picture, and won Best Cast at the SAG Awards. I can’t imagine a scenario where Slumdog Millionaire wouldn’t win.

Best Actor: Sean Penn, “Milk.” Penn gave a compelling performance, and I believe it was just good enough to squeak by nominee Mickey Rourke from “The Wrestler.” It should be close.

Best Actress: Meryl Streep, “Doubt.” The only other nominee capable of beating her is Kate Winslet from “The Reader.” Winslet has won two Best Supporting Actress awards this year, one for this role. However, I don’t think it will be enough to overtake Streep’s chilling performance.

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight.” There’s no question that Ledger should, and will, win this award, given the widespread acclaim he received for his role as the Joker in the latest Batman movie. Even critics who disliked the movie had to admit that his performance was great, making him the most memorable villain in movie history.

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, “Doubt.” Kate Winslet dominated this category at the SAG Awards and Golden Globes. Now that she’s out of this category at the Oscars, it gives the performance that outshines the rest a chance to win. I pick Davis.

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