So Foul: What Really Happened At Oscars When 1st African American, Hattie McDaniel, Won

Posted On : February 1, 2021
Actress, Hattie McDaniel

When the late, great actress, Hattie McDaniel, became the first African American to win an Oscar Award in 1940, that accolade was not a smooth journey to her win as Best Supporting Actress. The actual awards ceremony started off on a bad note from the jump, when Ms. McDaniel arrived at the Coconut Grove Restaurant of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, where the Oscars ceremony took place on February 29, 1940, Ms. McDaniel and her escort were told they couldn’t sit at the table with her fellow Gone With The Wind co-stars (who disapproved of the fact that Hattie had to sit separately from them). She was instead forced to sit at a segregated table for two.

Actresses, Vivian Leigh (L) and Hattie McDaniel (R), in “Gone With The Wind” film

McDaniel handled the situation with class and poise as the award show proceeded. When her name was eventually called as the winner for Best Supporting Actress, she gave this touching speech that brought many to tears:

“Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, fellow members of the motion picture industry and honored guests: This is one of the happiest moments of my life, and I want to thank each one of you who had a part in selecting me for one of their awards, for your kindness. It has made me feel very, very humble; and I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything that I may be able to do in the future. I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry. My heart is too full to tell you just how I feel, and may I say thank you and God bless you.”

Watch Hattie McDaniel’s 1940 acceptance speech for the Oscar’s Best Supporting Actress:

The main downfall was that Ms. McDaniel received both support and backlash from the African American community, because many Black people were torn between their sheer joy for her groundbreaking win, but they were also highly upset that the very movie she was receiving rave reviews and accolades for had probably just set Black people back about hundred years back into the slave era, which Black people in America were only about two generations removed from at that time.

The backlash came because McDaniel’s role as the house slave who disciplined her owner’s daughter, “Scarlett O’Hara” (Vivien Leigh), scoffed at “Rhett Butler” (Clark Gable), but dare not talk back to the wife, “Mrs. O’Hara,” all of whom were Caucasian, while McDaniel played the role of “Mammy.”

Because African Americans felt that McDaniel’s “Mammy” role was a success, but that it also further celebrated the systemic slave system within America during, just as they were trying to fight for equal rights, Hattie’s attempt to take her show on the road as the role of “Mammy” failed miserably with the Black audience.

Overall, we still salute Hattie McDaniel for kicking down a door that seemed to be cemented shut back then, when segregation was still in full effect and Jim Crow laws were still enforced. If it weren’t for her enduring all that she endured and still representing strength through it all, there would be no Taraji’s, no Halle’s, no Whoopi’s, and so many more. So for that we thank Ms. McDaniel, whom if she were still here, would probably be deeply disappointed to learn that ever since she was the first African American to win an Oscar, there have only been just a little over a handful more Black actors to do the same within the 76 years after she delivered her powerful acceptance speech in 1940.

-ILoveOldSchoolMusic, old school news with a new point of view