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.

Ronald Reed Productions

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.


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


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


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


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

Fox Film Corporation

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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