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Hattie McDaniel

HATTIE MCDANIEL (1895 – 1952)

Hollywood didn't show its appreciation for big, black and beautiful beginning with Gabourey Sidibe's 2009 role in Precious; Hattie forced the Academy's hand as the first African-American Oscar recipient in 1939 for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mammy in Gone With The Wind.

Her father was a Civil War veteran and her mother was a gospel singer. Her formative years were spent in Denver, Colorado in a family full of entertainers where she worked radio and minstrel shows. She made her first mark as a singer-songwriter recording on the race labels, Okeh and Paramount.

In 1931, she made the pilgimage to Hollywood where she starred as servants for they were among the few available roles for African-American women. She would wait on the day's biggest stars - Mae West, Shirley Temple, Will Rogers, Jean Harlow, Béla Lugosi, Jimmy Stewart and Ginger Rogers.

By 1939 she had so perfected the subservient maid act that she was handed the role of Mammy. The film's overt racist stereotypes and dialogue sent shivers up the NAACP's spine but she thought it was best to keep her enemies close. Even though Clark Gable threatened to boycott the film's Atlanta premiere, she was still not allowed to attend due to the era's Jim Crow laws.

McDaniel would encounter further injustice when white neighbors had a problem with her newly found affluence. The final added insult to injury came in death when her wish to be buried in The Hollywood Cemetery was denied because of her color.

Wins the Oscar

Paul Robeson and Hattie McDaniel sing Ah Still Suits Me Show Boat (1936)

Scarlett & Mammy

The Oscar Goes Missing

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