Last year’s 86th Academy Awards marked a historic night for black filmmakers at the Oscars. It’s the first time a black film – 12 Years a Slave — won best picture; the Academy’s most prestigious award. John Ridley won for Best Adapted Screenplay and Steve McQueen won as Producer.
But, as the 1959 Grammy Award winning vocalist Dinah Washington sang: “What a Difference a Day Makes.”
I’m recognizing and celebrating the accomplishments of Black Artists in Hollywood; especially considering the lack of African-American nominations for this year’s 87th Academy Awards.
Oscars 2015: No black actors or female screenwriters, directors or cinematographers were nominated.
The 12th Academy Awards is historic for being the 1st Oscar nomination for an African-American and 1st Oscar win. Hattie McDaniel accepted her award in 1940 as Best Actress in a Supporting Role for “Gone With the Wind” as the character – Mammy.
However, if David O. Selznick (Producer, film studio executive) hadn’t pulled a favor, she might not have been able to deliver her acceptance speech at all. At the time, the Cocoanut Grove nightclub (located in the Ambassador Hotel) was segregated so Ms. McDaniel wasn’t even allowed entrance. Selznick pulled another favor so she could be seated at a table at the very back of the room with her agent. To add insult to injury, Hattie McDaniel wasn’t allowed to speak her own words, the acceptance speech was written by the studio.
Despite all the prejudice, Hattie McDaniel – who at the time was one of the biggest African-American actors in the world -promoted herself for the nomination. After the release of the movie, she placed a stack of outstanding film reviews on O. Selznick’s desk and the rest is history.
First Best Actress Oscar
In 2002, Halle Berry became the 1st (and to date) only African-American to win the Academy Award for Best Actress. The Oscar was for the film “Monsters Ball”.
Dorothy Dandridge – (November 9, 1922 – September 8, 1965) is the 1st African-American actress to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar in 1954 for her performance in “Carmen Jones.” She has been recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was married to dancer Harold Nicholas. Check out my previous post on the Nicholas Brothers here.
Halle Berry portrayed her life in the HBO biographical film “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge” in 1999.
Watching Halle’s acceptance speech again while researching this post, I burst into tears reliving her emotion as she tries to process the win and the historical significance of this moment. Looking forward to the acceptance speech of our second Best Actress Oscar Winner.
This win also marked the 1st time two African-American performers won in leading role Oscars in the same year (Denzel Washington, Training Day).
Best Supporting Actress
1st to Win: Hattie McDaniel “Gone With the Wind” 1940
Although known as an actress she was a professional singer-songwriter, comedian, stage actress, radio performer, and television star; she was the first black woman to sing on the radio in the U.S. and has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1975, she was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame and in 2006 became the first black Oscar winner honored with a US postage stamp.
Hattie McDaniel was also the oldest African-American actress to win an Academy Award (age 44).
Finally – 50 Years later the 2nd Winner!
Winner: Supporting Actress – Whoopi Goldberg “Ghost” 1990
First African-American actress to receive two acting nominations overall.
Second African-American actress to win Best Supporting Actress.
Winner: Supporting Actress – Jennifer Hudson “Dreamgirls” 2006
First African-American actor (male or female) to win an Academy Award for a debut film performance.
Youngest African-American actress to win or be nominated for Best Supporting Actress.
Youngest African-American actor (male or female) to win an Academy Award (age 25).
First African-American actress to win an Academy Award for a musical film.
Oldest African-American actress to be nominated for an Academy Award (age 83) – Ruby Dee “American Gangster” 2007.
For her life and career see my previous post here: Ruby Dee
Winner: Supporting Actress – Mo’Nique “Precious” 2009
Second film to feature African-American nominees for both Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress.
Winner: Supporting Actress – Octavia Spencer “The Help” 2011
Third film to feature African-American nominees for both Best Actress and Supporting Actress.
Winner: Supporting Actress – Lupita Nyong’o “12 Years a Slave” 2013
First black African (Kenyan) actress to be nominated.
First black African to win in any category.
Second black actor to win for a debut performance.
Congratulations and Cheers to these exceptional artists!
We’ve come a long way, but we’ve still got a long way to go.