Here’s an amazing fact. The first African American to win an Oscar, Hattie McDaniel, was the daughter of an ex-slave. Here’s another thing I just found out, when Gone With The Wind – her role in which won her that Oscar — premiered in Atlanta – she wasnt allowed to go because the theatre was segregated. What the….Wow. She also couldnt be buried where she wanted to be – in Hollywood- because the cemetary was segregated. When she got her second choice, it was only after they waived a segregation rule – so she was the first black person there. Wow. McDaniel also got criticism from the NAACP for always playing stereotypical maid roles. To this, she famously responded she’d rather make $700 a week playing a maid than $7 a week being one. Nice one.
I saw a play once called The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler (at OSF). It was a surreal kind of play where fictional stereotypes came to life – including a Mammy character – and went on a journey to break free, but then they came to realize that they were trendsetters, “pioneers” and played the stereotypes so the next generation was free to do more. and the next generation after that, even more. It wasn’t the greatest play, but it made a good point.
I wasn’t going to write about the topic of the Oscars but then I saw this cool slide show from the NYTimes about African American Oscar winners. Why take note of race? Well, only 13 Black performers have been given an Oscar — in 82 years. That’s a little rough. It says a lot about how things were back in the day. I always think about how many talented performers in the old days were relugated to crap roles because of racism.
Things are beyond doubt better these days and we should all be grateful. Though, it’s worth noting, this year none of the acting nominees are anything but white and — perhaps more importantly- none of the films up for awards have main characters who are black, either. (Or Asian, Latin, Native American… ) That’s sort of ….ZI don’t know.. It’s odd that the first woman director winner ever- ever!- was just last year.
Anyhow, here’s to all the people everywhere who face uphill battles getting their work realized and recognized..good luck, and don’t give up!