The little-known story of the first black Oscar winner

March 8, 2018

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Hattie McDaniel was born in 1893 in Wichita, Kansas, when separate but equal was still the law of the land.

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She got her start by playing characters on the radio, then moved on to acting on the screen in 1931.

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After a few small gigs, she landed her first major on-screen role in the 1934 movie Judge Priest, where she played Aunt Dilsey, a stereotypical maid.

Fox Film Corporation

In 1939, McDaniel wasn’t allowed to attend the Atlanta premiere for Gone With the Wind, a movie she was in, due to strict segregation laws in the South.

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In 1940, the movie was up for multiple Academy Awards, and McDaniel won for best supporting actress.

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While she wasn’t allowed to sit with her fellow actors during the ceremony, her win was met with overwhelming applause.

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Despite her success, the NAACP disowned McDaniel, criticizing her for “perpetuating negative stereotypes” in her roles, the Hollywood Reporter wrote.

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By the end of her career, McDaniel had acted in nearly 100 movies — and she’d played the role of a maid 74 times.

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If we don't take these roles, then we become absent.'

— Jill Watts, Author of Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood

McDaniel died of breast cancer in 1952. Although she wished to be buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery, she was denied because of a “whites-only” policy.

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In 2006, she was commemorated with a U.S. postage stamp. She is remembered for paving the way for people of color in the film industry.

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