Hattie McDaniels 1st black to win an Oscar ~ Role: Mammy in Gone With the Wind, 1939

Hattie McDaniel, 1895-1952
1st black to win an Oscar ~
Role: Mammy, Gone With the Wind, 1939


Dorothy Dandridge 1922-1965

Dorothy Dandridge, 1922-1965 1st black woman nominated for Best Actress in Leading Role as Carmen Jones in Carmen Jones, 1954

I’m guilty. I like Oscar parties. Dress up, eat fancy hors d’oeuvres, drink champagne and maybe even walk down an imitation of THE red carpet. Fun night. While we’re at it let’s also take a serious look at what role we movie consumers play in feeding the gross injustices reflected on the silver screen when it comes to whites—from the casting room to the cutting room—vs people of (any) color.

This February 19, 2016 New York Times article by Brandon K. Thorp, takes a hard look at the stats for black performers who have been nominated for Best Actor/Actress. Great article. However—even though Thorp’s focus was Leading Role—how could he not at least mention Hattie McDaniel who was the first black to win an Oscar: Best Actress in a Supporting Role as Mammy in Gone With the Wind, 1939.

Fifteen years later, 1954, Dorothy Dandridge became the first black nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Carmen in Carmen Jones. Dandridge was joined by Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Jane Wyman and Judy Garland. Hepburn won for Roman Holiday. It would be 47 years before Halle Berry became the 1st black woman to win in the Leading Role category for her portrayal of Leticia Musgrove in Monster’s Ball. Thorp’s article has much to say about what the roles of black nominees and winners have in common.


Hattie McDaniel: American actress, singer-songwriter and comedienne.

At the 1939 Oscars McDaniels and her escort were required to sit at a segregated table for two. That part has changed but I dare say, too much remains the same. We should not be surprised that what we see pictured in American mainstream movies is the rampant racism still present in the rest of our culture.

What should shock us is our own complacency in accepting this fact; continuing to buy tickets to see the films that perpetrate the problem. We must hit the big studios where it hurts: zip up the purse, stay home with our popcorn and stream movies that reflect the world as it is ~ filled with people of color.


Will Smith as Muhammad Ali in “Ali” (2001). Frank Connor/Columbia Pictures


“The Oscars are a symptom,” [and not the illness itself] says Dr. Todd Boyd, the author and professor of critical studies at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts.   — from article: What Does the Academy Value in a Black Performance?


Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy in “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012). Jess Pinkham/Fox Searchlight Pictures, via Associated Press


Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave (2013). Jaap Buitendijk/Fox Searchlight Pictures



Gabourey Sidibe as Claireece (Precious) Jones in “Precious” (2009). Lionsgate


List of black Academy Award winners and nominees from 1958-2013