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An MLK Day Oscar Factoid List
by Summer Wood

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Hattie McDaniel with Oscars

Hattie McDaniel with Oscars
So Monday is Martin Luther King Day and I'm already into Oscar mode, so this week's column seemed to be a good opportunity to provide a few interesting factoids about African-Americans and the Academy Awards. There are many facts to cite, but this is just a brief sampling of items that I found either interesting or just had to be included. Here goes!

First African American to win an Acting Award: OK, everyone knows this one. Hattie McDaniel won Best Supporting Actress as Mammy in GONE WITH THE WIND. She was also the oldest Black actor of either gender to win the Best Actor/Actress. Given the time of the movie, 1939, and the locale of the story, Georgia, it was decided that the movie premiere would be held in Atlanta. However, Atlanta was a segregated city at the time. In spite of David O. Selznick's petition for the city to bend their segregation laws for the event, MGM would not support him and McDaniel and the other black actors were not permitted to attend. Clark Gable considered boycotting the premiere, but McDaniel herself convinced him to attend. She did attend the Hollywood premiere of the movie.

First Black Performer to Win Oscar for Film Debut: That would be Jennifer Hudson for her powerhouse performance in the supporting role of Effie White in DREAMGIRLS. (Take that, American Idol!) Jennifer has a couple of records for this role: youngest Black Actress nominated for Best Supporting Actress (until Quvenzhane Wallis this year, she was the youngest African American nominated in any acting category), and the first African American performer to win in an Acting category for a musical film.

Number of Academy Award
Spike - Just Doing It!

Spike - Just Doing It!
nominations received by Spike Lee: 2. Remarkably, none for direction of a feature film. He was nominated for screenwriting the best original screenplay for DO THE RIGHT THING in the 62nd Academy Awards in 1989. He was the first African-American male to be nominated for a original screenwriting award. (The first to win to an African-American screenwriter was to Gregory Fletcher for Adapted Screenplay for PRECIOUS.) Interestingly, the first African-American to be nominated for the original screenwriting award was a female, Suzanne De Passe, who co-wrote LADY SINGS THE BLUES, and she shared the honor of being the first African-Americans nominated for ANY screenwriting awards with Lonne Elder III, who was nominated for Adapted Screenplay for SOUNDER. Both scripts were nominated in 1972 during the 45th Academy Awards.) Spike was also nominated for Best Documentary Feature in 1997 for FOUR LITTLE GIRLS, which he directed, with producer Samuel D. Pollard. To date, he has not won.

Number of Black Actors nominated in a lead role for playing historical figures: Out of a total of 19 total Best Actor nominations for Black actors, nine were for portraying historical persons. These are:
●Denzel Washington, Malcolm X MALCOLM X 1992 nominated;
●Laurence Fishburne, Ike Turner WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT 1993 nominated;
●Denzel Washington, Rubin Carter THE HURRICANE 1999 nominated;
●Will Smith, Muhammad Ali ALI 2001 nominated;
●Jamie Foxx, Ray Charles RAY 2001, won;
●Don Cheadle, Paul Rusesabagina HOTEL RWANDA 2004 nominated;
●Forest Whitaker, Idi Amin THE LAST KING
Will - Who's time will come...

Will - Who's time will come...
OF SCOTLAND 2006 won;
●Will Smith, Chris Gardner THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS 2006, nominated; and
●Morgan Freeman, Nelson Mandela INVICTUS 2009, nominated.

Only Black Actor to lose in Best Actor Category to other Black Performers: Poor Will Smith! Nominated twice and lost twice, both the other African-Americans nominated: Jamie Foxx and Forest Whitaker. He'll just have to settle for being one of the top ten box office draws of all time! (For the record, though how one measures the highest grossing box office actors results in different names on top, it appears that whichever way one cuts it, Samuel L. Jackson is either number one or two.)

Number of Black Actresses nominated in a lead role for playing historical figures: Less emphasis on actual people among the ladies. Out of a total of 9 total Best Actress nominations for Black actresses, only two were for portraying historical persons. These are:
●Diana Ross, Billie Holiday LADY SINGS THE BLUES 1972, nominated; and
●Angela Bassett, Tina Turner WHAT'S LOVE'S GOT T DO WITH IT 1993, nominated.

Black Performer with an Academy Award for the least seen Feature Film: OK, I'm guessing here, but I'll bet I'm right. In 1948, James Baskett was awarded an Honorary Academy Award for his portrayal of Uncle Remus in Disney's SONG OF THE SOUTH, a partly live and partly animated film based on the Brer Rabbit stories by Joel Chandler Harris, a white folklorist who wrote, purportedly, Black folktales in dialect. Baskett's award made him the first Black male performer to receive an Academy Award. However, although the film was relatively
James Baskett recieving his Oscar

James Baskett recieving his Oscar
successful, it was controversial both artistically and intrinsically. Some critics found the mixture of live action and animation a sign that the Disney animators were becoming lazy, by finding a way to avoid animating the entire film. More importantly, several organizations found the film morally objectionable in that it created a rosy and benign portrait of the slave era or early reconstruction. (For the record, the source material indicated that the action occurred after the end of the Civil War so Uncle Remus would not have been a slave at the time of the action.) In spite of the controversies, SONG OF THE SOUTH was rereleased several times by the Disney Company, the last time being around 1986 and several cuts from the film have been shown on TV, including the song Zippidy-Do-Dah. However, it has never been released on home media in the United States (it has been in Europe and Asia). Therefore, it is unlikely any American under the age of 30 has ever had a chance to see it. Sadly, James Baskett died of a heart condition the same year he won his Oscar. He was 44 years old.

As with many pieces of information arising from Black History, this column is bittersweet at best. No question, Black cinematic artists are in a better position than they were when GONE WITH THE WIND was released, or SOUNDER, or even in 1990 when Whoopi Goldberg became the second African American to win a Beset Supporting Actress Oscar for GHOST. Still, we have so far to go. So, while you contemplate the state of Civil Rights and Equality on this MLK Day, I hope this column inspires a few thoughts about Equality in the Arts. Have a wonderful holiday!

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Jan 23, 2013 2:41 PM
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2 steps forward, 1 step back - like so many things in our history the myriad contibutions of Black actors and actresses slowly move towards equality and openness. As so many Jewish performers had to change their names in order to compete in films, other minorities have gone through this gauntlet. Enjoyed the column. Thanks

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A Musing in Movieland
Every other Sunday

One woman's attempt to find meaning in movies, from movies, and between movies and to figure out why movies should matter to us, all while trying to find a laugh in the whole, screwy business."

Other Columns
Other columns by Summer Wood:

American Gods (With apologies to Neil Gaiman) Pt 2

American Gods (With apologies to Neil Gaiman) Pt 1

Most Beautiful Woman Alive!

The Jazzier Age?

Happy Easter, Doc!

All Columns

Summer Wood
I'm still cautiously optimistic that there really is a pattern to our lives and am striving to find mine, although I secretly suspect that life is really just about a Big, Space Baby. Which would be disappointing. And confusing. But, hey, you gotta have a sense of humor about it all, right? Philosophical stuff aside, I am an attorney, an artist and a performer and, if I could figure out a way to make the last two pay the bills, I'd dump the first one tomorrow.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Summer Wood by clicking here.

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