According to Variety, Hattie McDaniel — the first Black person to win an Academy Award — will finally get a biopic. The late great star won an award in 1939 for her portrayal of the housemaid, Mammy, in Gone With The Wind.
For those unfamiliar with McDaniel’s life story, let’s just say bringing her nuanced story to the big screen is long overdue. Despite McDaniel winning the award, she was banned from going to the Gone With The Wind premiere, along with other Black actors, thanks to the South’s Jim Crow laws.
On the night of her Oscar win, she arrived in a dazzling turquoise gown, with white gardenias in her hair and sat at a dark table near the wall with her agent, not at the table with her costars.
Beyond winning the award, McDaniel was determined to make a name for herself as an actor, often being cast in roles as maids and servicewomen. While she’s revered now for her accomplishments, she was frequently criticised by the Black community and called out by the NAACP for portraying subservient characters. While she was later recognised and celebrated for her accomplishments, even in her death she faced odds. Her final wish was to be buried in Hollywood Cemetery, but she was denied that request due to her race.
Despite her controversial roles, she’s credited for opening the doors for the many people of colour in Hollywood who’ve come after her. It would be 23 more years before another Black actor would take home an Oscar — Sidney Poitier, who won Best Actor for Lilies Of The Field. A win that even Oprah discussed at the recent Golden Globes this year. And while McDaniel’s win was nearly 80 years ago, it’s hard to believe sometimes that in 2018, we’re still celebrating “firsts.”
It’s only right that the first Black person — a woman at the that — finally get the highest Hollywood honor of them all: having her story told on the biggest stage of them all, the silver screen.