Blacks at the Oscars

The Academy award is an award distributed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) that honors the hard-work of writers, actors, producers and other notable characters in the film industry. With the first award ceremony held on May 16, 1929, the Academy awards is the oldest awards ceremony in the media and also one of the most televised. The Oscar statuette which is the Academy Award of Merit is one of nine awards distributed by the Academy. Since the inception of the Academy Awards in 1929, non-whites have always been a minority, specifically the Black race. The first nomination for an African American came in 1939 with the likes of Hattie McDaniel playing “Mammy”, a house slave, in the movie “Gone With The Wind”. Hattie would later go on to become the first African-American (male or female) to win an Academy Award for Best Acting and also the first Black actress to win for Best Supporting Actress. Besides acting, Hattie also was musically talented and accomplished a lot as she was the first black woman to sing on the radio in America. In 2006 she became the first Black Oscar winner to receive a US postage stamp.

Hattie played the role of house slave “Mammy” in the 1939 movie “Gone With The Wind”.

Hattie McDaniel accepting her award for Best Supporting Actress at the 12th Academy Awards in 1940.

The second Black person to be nominated for an Academy Award, Ethel Waters, would come 10 years after Hattie McDaniel’s win. Unfortunately, Ethel, was not successful. In 1958, Sidney Poitier became the first black actor to be nominated for an Academy Award for his role in “The Defiant Ones”. He was unsuccessful but 5 years later (1963) , he created history by being the first Black actor to win Best Actor for his role in “Lilies of the Field” and also the first to receive two nominations. In 2002 he received an Academy Honorary Award “for his extraordinary performances and unique presence on the screen and for representing the industry with dignity, style and intelligence”.

Sidney Poitier speaks about his Oscar win.

In 1982, Louis Gossett Jr became the first Black actor to win Best Supporting Actor for his role in “An Officer and a Gentleman”. In 1987 Denzel Washington was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in “Cry Freedom” but he never won until 1989 for his role in “Glory” making him the first Black actor to receive two Best Supporting Actor nominations. In 1990, Whoopi Goldberg became the second Black actress to win Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Ghost”.

Louis Gossett Jr became the first Black actor to win Best Supporting Actor for his role in “An Officer and a Gentleman”.

Whoopi Goldberg became the second Black actress to win Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Ghost”.

Denzel Washington accepted his award for Best Supporting Actor in 1989 for “Glory”.

In 1996, Cuba Gooding Jr became the  youngest Black male actor to win an Academy Award at age 29. Below is a video of his memorable acceptance speech.

 At the 74th Academy Awards  in 2002, history was created as Halle Berry became the first and to date the only African-American to win an Oscar for Best Actress for her role in “Monster’s Ball”. Also that night Denzel Washington won his first Best Actor Oscar, on this third time being nominated in this category, for his role in the movie “Training Day”. This was the first time in history that both Best Actress and Best Actor are African-Americans. Also on that same night, Sidney Poitier  received an Academy Honorary Award.

Halle’s historic Academy Award winning acceptance speech.

Denzel accepting his first Academy Award for Best Actor.

In 2004, both the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor awards were won by African-American men. Jamie Foxx for his role in the movie “Ray” based on the life of late music legend Ray Charles and Morgan Freeman for his role in “Million Dollar Baby”. Jamie Foxx also became the first Black actor to receive two acting nominations in the same year.

Jamie Foxx and Morgan Freeman, winners of Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively at the 77th Academy Awards in 2005.

In 2006, Forest Whitaker won Best Actor for his role as Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin. In that same year Jennifer Hudson won Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Dreamgirls”. She became the first Black actor (male or female) to win for a debut film performance and also the youngest Black actor (male or female) to win an Academy Award at age 25.

Forest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson holding their Oscars for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress respectively at the 79th Academy Awards in 2007.

In 2010, Mo’Nique won the Oscar for Best Supporting  Actress for her role in “Precious” making her the fourth Black actress to win in this category.

Mo’Nique’s magnificent Oscar acceptance speech at the 82th Academy Awards.

In 2012, Octavia Spencer won Best Supporting Actress for her role in the movie “The Help” making her the 5th Black actress to win in this category.

Octavia Spencer, Best Supporting Actress at the 84th Academy Awards in 2012.

In 2014, Lupita Nyong’o became the first Black African to win (in any category). She won Best Supporting Actress for her role as “Patsey” in the movie “12 Years a Slave”. 

Over the years, many other African-Americans have been nominated for Academy awards but were unsuccessful, nevertheless they deserve to be recognized for their hard work, because if they were nominated it means that the Academy took notice of the extraordinary work that they are doing.

Best Actor in a Leading Role Nominees

1958 – Sidney Poitier – The Defiant Ones.

1970 – James Earl Jones – Movie – The Great White Hope.

1972 – Paul Winfield – Movie – Sounder.

1986 – Dextor Gordon – Movie – Round Midnight.

1989 – Morgan Freeman – Movie – Driving Miss Daisy.

1992 – Denzel Washington – Movie – Malcolm X.

1993 – Laurence Fishburne – Movie – What’s Love Got to Do with It.

1994 – Morgan Freeman – Movie – The Shawshank Redemption.

1999 – Denzel Washington – Movie – The Hurricane.

2001 – Will Smith- Movie – Ali. (First male hip-hop artiste to be nominated for an Academy Award).

2004 – Don Cheadle – Movie – Hotel Rwanda.

2005 – Terrence Howard – Movie – Hustle & Flow.

2006 – Will Smith – Movie – The Pursuit of Happyness.

2009 – Morgan Freeman – Invictus.

2012 – Denzel Washington – Flight.

2013 – Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave. 

Best Actress in a Leading Role Nominees

1954 – Dorothy Dandridge – first Black actress to be nominated for Best Actress – Movie – Carmen Jones.

1972 – Diana Ross – Movie – The Lady Sings the Blues. (First black actress to receive an Academy Award nomination for a debut film performance).

1972 – Cicely Tyson – Movie – Sounder.

1974 – Diahann Carroll – Movie – Claudine.

1985 – Whoopi Goldberg – Movie – The Color Purple.

1993 – Angela Bassett – Movie – What’s Love Got to Do with It.

2009 – Gabourey Sidibe – Movie – Precious. (Youngest black actress to be nominated in this category).

2011 – Viola Davis – Movie – The Help.

2012 – Quvenzhane Wallis – Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

1969 – Rupert Crosse – Movie – The Reivers. (First Black Actor to be nominated for Best Supporting Actor)

1981 – Howard Rollins – Movie – Ragtime.

1984 – Adolph Caesar – Movie – A Soldier’s Story.

1987- Morgan Freeman – Movie – Street Smart.

1987 – Morgan Freeman – Movie – Cry Freedom.

1992 – Jaye Davidson – Movie – The Crying Game.

1994 – Samuel L. Jackson – Movie – Pulp Fiction.

1999 – Michael Clarke Duncan – Movie – The Green Mile.

2003 – Djimon Hounsou – Movie – In America.

2004 – Jamie Foxx – Movie – Collateral.

2006 – Djimon Hounsou – Movie – Blood Diamond.

2006 – Eddie Murphy – Movie – Dreamgirls.

2013 – Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips. 

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

1949 – Ethel Waters – Movie – Pinky.

1959 – Juanita Moore – Movie – Imitation of Life.

1967 – Beah Richards – Movie – Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

1983 – Alfre Woodard – Movie – Cross Creek.

1985 – Margaret Avery – Movie – The Color Purple.

1985 – Oprah Winfrey – Movie – The Color Purple.

1996 – Marianne Jean-Baptiste – Movie – Secrets & Lies (First British black actress to receive an Academy Award nomination. She was also the first black person (male or female) born outside the United States to receive an Academy Award nomination in an acting category.)

2002 – Queen Latifah – Movie – Chicago. ( First female hip hop artist to be nominated for an Academy Award.)

2004 – Sophie Okonedo – Movie – Hotel Rwanda.

2007 – Ruby Dee – Movie – American Gangster.

2008 – Viola Davis – Movie – Doubt.

2008 – Taraji P. Henson – Movie – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

In recent years, the Academy has been more receptive to non whites, specifically Blacks. However, the problem is not so much about the inconsistency of nonwhite actors earning Oscar nominations and wins. It’s the limited types of roles for which they do get nominated for. For example, the Oscars have a propensity to reward black females not for playing women like Halle Berry’s  character in “Monster’s Ball”, but rather for roles that reiterate the ancient Hollywood racial stereotypical views of black women who are maids, housekeepers or that highlighting the matrifocal Black family, where the mother stays at home and takes care of the children, while the father is the breadwinner or often times, an absentee. In doing this, Hollywood is sending the message that as a black actress, in order for you to be an Oscar nominee and winner your role has to resemble Hattie McDaniel’s as opposed to Halle Berry’s.

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