The first black Oscars winner Hattie McDaniel #OscarSoWhite


The Oscar nominations for the 90th annual awards were announced on Tuesday morning from the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, California. It’s not strange to have black people on the list of Oscar nominations today; however, it was really rare that a black man or woman was nominated by the Oscar and even won the prize about 80 years ago. She is the first one with black skin to win the Oscar. She is the black nanny help Scarlett to dress in the classic film Gone with the Wind. She is Hattie McDaniel.

The audiences who have watched the movie “Gone with the Wind” probably wouldn’t forget the magnificent Miss Scarlett in the manor. However, do you still remember her black nanny standing behind her? The story of this black nanny Hattie McDaniel is going to be made into a biographical movie.

Hattie McDaniel, left, was given the Motion Picture Academy award for the best performance of an actress in a supporting role in 1939 for her work as “Mammy” in the film version of “Gone With the Wind” on Feb. 29, 1940 in Los Angeles, Calif. The presentation of the award was given by actress Fay Bainter, right. (AP Photo)

What did this chubby nanny get to make her from a supporting role turn into a protagonist in a biographical movie? Actually she is the first African-American who won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a supporting role by acting in concert with Vivien Leigh in 1939. However, because of the apartheid policy of the hotel which held the Oscar ceremony, she could only sit in the rear area with security guards. Even so, McDaniel was still the first black impersonator to win the Oscars.

Before hitting the silver screen, McDaniel started her entertainment career with sing and dance jugglery, and also did side vocalist. However, her way to an actress did not go well. She often played as a nanny, and occasionally had only two or three lines. The movie which made McDaniel attract attention should be the role of cook in movie Alice Adam. Her pleasing and nature interpretation brought her more opportunities including acting as Scarlett’s nanny in Gone with the Wind.

Gone with the Wind (1939), directed by Victor Fleming, shown from left: Vivien Leigh, Hattie McDaniel (photo by iMDb)

She had been playing numerous slave, maid and cook in her lifetime, and she even had done work as a maid in her real life. She didn’t get the respect of black society after winning the Oscars as we thought at the first. On the contrary, in Gone with the Wind, slavery is regarded as a benevolent system, and the story depicts the profound feelings between black nanny and her master; not to mention, there is a plot that black people attack white women on purpose. Those caused dissatisfaction of the black society, so McDaniel who was part of this movie had become the attacking target.

However, McDaniel’s thoughts and words twisted the situation. “ If I can earn 700 dollars a week by playing a maid, why should I earn 7 dollars a week by being a real maid,” she asked, and she also has this classic quotation, “I’d rather play a maid than be a maid.”

Afterwards, McDaniel was considered as the hero of race, which was also her dream that she hoped she will be always an honor of black and an honor in film industry. She had been working on the race problem in America, and brought about the public’s concern about racial restrictive covenants with other celebrities –a restriction of housing sale with black people- after she became famous. Although McDaniel‘s biography movie is still in preparatory stage, without a doubt, she has been the best actress of black-right.

Atlanta Postmaster Kevin Helmer, second from right, and Clark Atlanta University professor Carol Mitchell-Leon, second from left, unveil a poster of the postage stamp with the likeness of Gone with the Wind’s Hattie McDaniel, as Keisha Simmons, left, and Kevin Hill, look on during a ceremony to honor her at the Margaret Mitchell historic homeplace in Atlanta, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2006. (AP Photo/John Amis)

Actually, Academy Awards, the Oscars, have been always criticized for “too white”. In 2016, the nominations of some crucial awards were all white people like best picture, best director, best actor and actress, best supporting actor and actress in the 88th Academy Awards. Not only the host of the 88th Oscars Chris Rock derided that the 2016 Oscars were “White BET Awards”, but some black actors and actresses were absent from the ceremony to show their dissatisfaction with the list.

Saturday Night Live made a huge dig at the dispute over the nomination list of 2016 Oscars.

For 90 years of the Oscars’ history, there have been only 4 black actors who won the best actor and only one African-American actress, Halle Berry, beating other white actresses by Monster’s Ball in 2002 to become best actress.

Although some people might think that the awards should be given to the best, rather than to the most political correctness. The renowned actress Charlotte Rampling even indicated publicly that the debate on races is “Racist to White,” which set off an uproar. However, could those performances really be fairly appraised without any discrimination?

Halle Berry accepts her Oscar for best actress for her role in Monsters Ball during the 74th annual Academy Awards on Sunday, March 24, 2002, in Los Angeles. Berry is the first African-American woman to win a best actress Oscar. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)