First African American Woman To Win Oscar – Hattie McDaniel, left, wins the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as a mother in the 1939 film Gone with the Wind on February 29, 1940 in Los Angeles. The award was presented by actress Faye Bainter, right. (AP)
An earlier version of this article misstated the name of the author of Gone with the Wind. It’s Margaret Mitchell, not Martha. The article has been corrected.
First African American Woman To Win Oscar
1940 On the evening of February 29, actress Hattie McDaniel, with a white gardenia in her hair, entered the Cocoanut Grove nightclub at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles for the Academy Awards. That night, she would become the first African-American to win an Oscar for her role as a slave maid in Gone with the Wind.
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But the hotel wouldn’t let McDaniel, 44, sit at the same table as the film’s white cast. And his historic best supporting actor win didn’t open the door to top film roles for black actors, including McDaniel himself. Instead of achieving wider success thanks to his Oscar, he later said: “If I did something wrong.”
An African-American did not win another competitive Oscar until 1964 (James Baskett won an honorary Oscar in 1948 for his portrayal of Uncle Remus), when Sidney Poitier, who died this year at the age of 94 years old, won the best actor award. It wasn’t like that. until 2002, when Halle Berry became the only African-American to win the award for Best Actress.
African-Americans have won 20 acting Oscars, but just in 2015, a call for more diversity began under the OscarsWhite banner. Four African-Americans were nominated for acting awards this year, up from nine last year, in Sunday’s ceremony at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood.
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McDaniel’s rise from poverty to Oscar is a story straight out of the movies. He grew up in Colorado as the youngest of 13 children. His parents were slaves. his father was a Baptist minister. She performed in black shows before moving to Los Angeles, where she eventually built a film career in comedy as a crazy waitress.
In 1939, a great opportunity was created. Producer David O. Selznick bought the rights to Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling book, Gone with the Wind, about the Old South before and after the Civil War. The overwhelmed McDaniel, who worked as a waitress between acting jobs, won the part of Mammy, the family’s maid at Tara Plantation.
Selznick cast British actress Vivien Leigh as Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara and morning idol Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, Scarlett’s suitor.
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The producer was criticized by the NAACP and Black newspapers for racism in Mitchell’s book, which romanticized slavery.
Earl Morris of the black newspaper Pittsburgh Courier predicted that Gone with the Wind would be more racist than The Birth of a Nation. Selznick studio officials responded to Morris by saying that the n-word had been removed from the film’s script and agreed to exclude the book’s references to the Ku Klux Klan.
The film premiered on December 15, 1939 in racially segregated Atlanta. An estimated 300,000 people line the streets to see the movie stars in the parade. Among the guests at the Loews Grand Theater were senior veterans of the Confederate War. A chorus of African-American children, including 10-year-old Martin Luther King Jr., also performed.
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When the nearly four-hour film ended, Atlanta Mayor William Hartsfield spoke. “His voice shook as he called out the cast members and thanked them,” the New York Times reported. “He asked the audience to applaud the Negro members of the cast, none of whom were present.” McDaniel refused to participate because he could not sit in the theater or stay in the same hotels as the “White” cast.
The Chicago Defender, a black newspaper, called the film “a weapon of terror against black America.” Most newspapers gave the film high marks, with many singling out McDaniel for praise. “No one who sees the picture can ever forget him,” wrote the Atlanta Reviewer of the Constitution. “In fact, he stole the show quite often.”
In early 1940, McDaniel was nominated for an Academy Award. He attended the awards ceremony as Selznick’s special guest, as the Ambassador Hotel did not usually allow African-Americans. He and his partner, the black actor Ferdinand Yobert, and his white agent sat at a small table in the back of the ballroom, behind a long table reserved for the film’s white actors.
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The ceremony, like the assistants, lasted into the night. Columnist Harold Heffernan described what happened next. “It was 12:50 a.m., nearly five hours after the opening bell, before the twelfth annual Oscar dinner managed to stir up excitement. So, leaving only a pair of statues for best actress and supporting actress, the dinner hanging came to life.”
Actress Faye Bainter announced the award for best supporting actress. “The audience stifled a yawn and leaned forward in anticipation, then gasped. … Because Miss Bainter called Hattie McDaniel “to receive the award, writes the columnist. “There was silence for a few minutes, and then the commotion began. … The crowd erupted in applause unprecedented in the history of the Academy.”
McDaniel gave a short, emotional acceptance speech. “I sincerely hope that I will always enjoy my race and the film industry,” he concluded and left the stage in tears. Gone with the Wind won eight of 20 awards, including best picture and best actress.
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Hollywood columnist Louella Parsons hailed McDaniel’s award as a step forward, showing that “race or color should not get in the way of where credit is due.” Columnist Jimmy Fiedler has a different opinion. “And where does this black artist go from here? Why go back to playing random comedy, of course? I don’t think it will be easy for me to laugh at Hattie’s comedy in the future.
Fiedler was right. McDaniel continued to be offered mainly waitressing and cooking roles. Walter White, executive director of the NAACP, singled him out for criticizing black actors who played enslaved and stereotypical roles. McDaniel replied. “I’d rather make $700 a week playing a maid than $7.”
In 1947, McDaniel landed the lead role in the popular national radio show, The Beulah Show, again portraying the comedic waitress. A few years later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. He died in 1952 at the age of 57.
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The actress faced racism even at the time of her death. He had asked to be buried in Hollywood Cemetery, but the cemetery was closed to African Americans. In October 1952, 3,000 people attended McDaniel’s funeral in Los Angeles. “After the funeral, 125 limousines formed a procession to Rosedale Cemetery, where he was buried,” writes the New York Times.
When McDaniel died, his estate was valued at about $10,000, which is equivalent to $106,000 today. Most of it went to tax refunds. She gave $1 to one of her four ex-husbands. He bequeathed his Oscar to Howard University in Washington, but it has since been lost.
In recent years, Gone with the Wind has faced a backlash against racism, but adjusted for inflation, it is still the highest-grossing film of all time. McDaniel’s reputation rose as a black film pioneer who had little power to choose her roles.
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In 2010, when black actress Mo’Nique accepted an Oscar for best supporting actress for her role in “Precious,” she wore white gardenias, just as McDaniel had done 70 years earlier. “I want to thank Miss Hattie McDaniel,” Mo’Nique said, “for going through what she had to do so I didn’t have to.” ‘Black Panther. for Wakanda Forever’ poses in the press room at the 95th Annual Academy Awards on March 12, 2023 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
Carter won his second costume design Oscar for Black Panther. for the movie Wakanda Forever. In 2019, she became the first black woman to win an Oscar nomination for her work in the first Black Panther film.
In her acceptance speech, Carter thanked the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for “recognizing this superhero as a black woman.”
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“She perseveres, she loves, she overcomes,” said Carter, dressed in a bright dress with gold studs, a tribute to the black women she has dressed in her work. “It’s every woman in this movie. It’s my mother.”
“This movie prepared me for this moment,” he said, then referred to late Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman, who died in 2020, and asked him to “please take care of mom.”
The celebrity client was previously nominated for an Oscar for her work in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X and Steven Spielberg’s Amistad.
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Only four other black Oscar winners have won multiple statues in competitive categories: actors Denzel Washington and Mahershala Ali and sound mixers Willie D. Burton and Russell Williams II. 74th Annual Monster’s Ball for Best Actress
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