Hattie McDaniel, Star of Gone with the Wind, Gives a Moving Academy Award Acceptance Speech (1940)

In 1940, Hat­tie McDaniel became the first African Amer­i­can to win an Acad­e­my Award, tak­ing home the Best Sup­port­ing Actress Oscar for her turn as Mam­my in Gone with the Wind. To quote a friend, there’s a lot hap­pen­ing in the 1:40 min­utes that doc­u­ment her accep­tance speech.

1939’s state­ly Best Sup­port­ing Actress Fay Bain­ter intro­duced the his­toric moment by not­ing, “It opens the doors of this room, moves back the walls, and enables us to embrace the whole of Amer­i­ca….”

At which point, co-star Olivia de Hav­il­land and fel­low nom­i­nees Geral­dine Fitzger­ald, Edna May Oliv­er, and Maria Ous­pen­skaya no doubt loos­ened their gir­dles and began con­tem­plat­ing their next mar­ti­nis.

McDaniel’s emo­tion­al, and inspir­ing­ly brief, remarks above don’t allude to the fact that she and her escort were seat­ed at a table near the kitchen, far from the podi­um and her fel­low Gone with the Wind cast mem­bers’ table. Two months pri­or, Geor­gia’s seg­re­ga­tion­ist laws pre­vent­ed her from attend­ing the Atlanta pre­miere. Pro­test­ers out­side the Coconut Grove awards cer­e­mo­ny decried Gone with the Wind’s depic­tion of peo­ple of col­or, McDaniel’s suc­cess­ful efforts to get the “n” word strick­en from the script notwith­stand­ing.

It would take the Acad­e­my over two decades to sin­gle out anoth­er African-Amer­i­can actor’s per­for­mance—Sid­ney Poiti­er, 1963’s Best Actor for his per­for­mance in Lilies of the Field.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Screen Tests for Gone with the Wind: What Could Have Been

Spiel­berg Reacts to the 1975 Oscar Nom­i­na­tions: ‘Com­mer­cial Back­lash!’

33 Free Oscar Win­ning Films Avail­able on the Web

80 Years of Acad­e­my Award Win­ning Films in Posters

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is spend­ing the week­end at the NYC Fem­i­nist Zine­fest. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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  • J. Manche says:

    Wrong about the acad­e­my’s not sin­gling out anoth­er black actor’s per­for­mance until 1963: James Bas­kett was award­ed an Oscar 17 years ear­li­er for his fan­tas­tic per­for­mance in the won­der­ful 1946 Dis­ney film “Song of the South.”

  • Right you are, J…though it’s a bit weird. He received an ‘hon­orary’ award, rather than Best Sup­port­ing Actor. And appar­ent­ly, he was both born and buried (at a sad­ly young age) in my home­town. The ceme­tery has some inter­est­ing infor­ma­tion on him that I would like­ly nev­er have learned if your com­ment had­n’t put the spurs to me, so thank you.


  • Karla says:

    I always thought the “cred­it to my race” line was so sad.

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