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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is sending Howard University a replacement Oscar for the groundbreaking actress Hattie McDaniel, whose original award has been missing for at least 50 years.
McDaniel was the first Black person to be nominated for and win an Oscar for her supporting role as Mammy in the 1939 film Gone With the Wind.
She went on to act in more than 300 films.
McDaniel excelled in an era where few like her did
Hattie McDaniel was a trailblazing Black actress whose talent, versatility, and determination left an indelible mark on Hollywood and American culture.
Born on June 10, 1895, in Wichita, Kansas, McDaniel’s early life was marked by struggles and hardships. She came from a family of performers, and her talent for singing and acting became apparent at an early age.
In the 1920s, she made her way to Los Angeles, where she began her career as a nightclub singer. Her talent quickly garnered attention, and she started to land small roles in films.
Hattie McDaniel was never accepted for who she was or pretended to be
Though she could recite Shakespeare and perform classically, the roles offered to Blacks were often those of a subservient nature.
Though it was her portrayal of Mammy that catapulted her to stardom, the acclaim did not come without controversy.
The NAACP denounced the film, and many Black theaters refused to show it.
Not only were her hyper-stereotypical depictions denounced by Blacks but her involvement was also barred by Whites as she was banned from attending the film’s Atlanta premiere.
Hattie McDaniel would later receive her Oscar in California under the cover of night
The 12th Academy Awards were held at the famed Cocoanut Grove nightclub in The Ambassador Hotel, according to Hollywood Reporter.
Hattie McDaniel arrived in a rhinestone-studded turquoise gown with white gardenias in her hair.
She then was escorted, not to the Gone With the Wind table — but to a small table set against a far wall, where she took a seat with her escort, F.P. Yober, and her agent, William Meiklejohn.
With the hotel’s strict no-Blacks policy, Selznick called in a special favor to have McDaniel allowed into the building.
“We hold the hope that we’ll find it someday,” historian W. Burlette CarterCarter says. “Not so much because of Hattie McDaniel, but because the Oscar really represents Black America overall. It represents the experience of being shut out for such a long time.”
Whether despite or because of racial prejudices of the time, McDaniel’s performance earned her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
McDaniel’s career continued to flourish with notable roles in films like “Since You Went Away” and “Song of the South.”
McDaniel’s success came at a price she acknowledged
McDaniel defended her selected roles, arguing that she was working within the constraints of a deeply segregated and racist industry.
Beyond her acting career, Hattie McDaniel was a pioneer in radio and television, breaking new ground by becoming the first African-American woman to star in her own radio show, “The Beulah Show,” in 1947.
Living in a 17-bedroom home with over ten million people tuned in for every episode of the broadcast, McDaniel says she never forgot where she came from. And that’s why she wasn’t going back.
She famously once said, “I’d rather make $700 a week playing a maid than $7 being one!”
She believed that she represented a part of her former life with this role, a relatable job that so many women of color were performing all over the country.
Within a few years, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and passed at 59.
A notable and touching homage to McDaniel’s legacy came in 2010; when accepting her Academy Award for her role in “Precious”, actress “Mo’nique dressed in a blue gown and gardenias, (the outfit that McDaniel had worn to her own ceremony in 1939,) and said “I’d like to thank Hattie McDaniel for enduring all that she had to, so that I would not have to.”
According to Entertainment Weekly, the will of Hattie McDaniel made two requests: for her body to be buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and for her Oscar to be given to Howard University.