The first Academy Awards ceremony took place in 1929. Each year, outstanding film performances are awarded to those actors and actresses who voters feel did the best job and they are presented with a gold-plated statuette and an eternal place in movie history.
Despite a number of gifted African-Americans who played stellar roles, however, few were even nominated and only two were given an Oscar before 1964. Following that time, there were more African-American nominees, but no other Oscars were obtained until the 1990’s.
Hollywood still has a long way to go. in terms of recognizing diversity among its ranks, as in 79 years, only two African-Americans have received Academy Awards for acting.
In 1939, Hattie McDonald became the first African-American to ever win an Oscar, due to her then much celebrated role as Mammy in the epic film Gone With the Wind. Her achievement of receiving the award for Best Supporting Actress has been somewhat dismissed now by many in the African-American community, because they believe it typified racial stereotypes.
In 1963, Sidney Poitier made history as the first African-American to win an Academy Award as Best Actor. He won for his portrayal of the character Homer Smith in Lilies of the Field. Poitier was later given a special Oscar in 2002 to honor his body of work as an outstanding film actor.
Amazingly, it took another 38 years before the Best Actor Oscar was given to an African-American. He captured the prestigious award in 2001 for his role in Training Day. He had previously been nominated in the Best Actor category for The Hurricane in 1999 and Malcolm X in 1992. Washington did receive a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Glory in 1989.
To date, there has only been one African-American actress given a Best Actress Oscar and that is Halle Berry, who was handed the statuette in 2001, for her portrayal of Leticia Musgrove in Monster’s Ball.
The multi-talented Whoopi Goldberg, whom some believed should have won a Best Actress in 1985 for her role as Celie in The Color Purple, was finally honored for her talents in 1990, when she got a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing Oda Mae Brown in Ghost.
Morgan Freeman, one of this country’s most accomplished film actors, got a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2004, for playing Eddie Scrap-Iron” Dupris in Million Dollar Baby. Freeman has also been an Oscar nominee for Best Actor for his roles in Driving Miss Daisy in 1989 and The Shawshank Redemption in 1994.
Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Who could forget Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s memorable role of football player Rod Tidwell, in Jerry McGuire? He practically stole every scene he was in with Tom Cruise? Gooding won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1996 for the colorful character he played.
Fortunately, it did not take another 38 years for another African-American to get a Best Actor Oscar. Jamie Foxx won for his tour de force performance as singer Ray Charles in the film Ray in 2004. That same year, Foxx was also nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the cab driver terrorized by hit man Tom Cruise in Collateral.
Forest Whitaker has been a notable film actor and director for many years. His efforts were finally rewarded when he won the 2006 Best Actor Oscar in 2006 for his role as the sociopathic Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.
2006 was a good year for African-Americans at the Academy Awards, as first-time nominee and screen newcomer Jennifer Hudson won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her Effie White role in Dreamgirls.