Remembering: Hattie McDaniel

Often when you hear the words Oscars and "first black" you will hear names like Sydney Poitier, Halle Berry and Denzel Washington being thrown around. Very seldom do you ever hear about Hattie McDaniel. The nominations for the 84th Academy Awards will be announced this month so I thought I would introduce you to a woman who paved the way for all the aforementioned black Oscar winners. 

For better and for worse, Hattie McDaniel is best remembered for her role as Mammy in multi-Oscar nominated movie Gone With the Wind. As you might imagine, McDaniel did a few other things in her life, and some of them but she only came to prominence with this role which earned her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

This effectively made her the first black person to ever be nominated and win the coveted film industry accolade.

In her speech in February 1940 at the 12th Annual Academy Award she said; 
"Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, fellow members of the motion picture industry and honored guests: This is one of the happiest moments of my life, and I want to thank each one of you who had a part in selecting me for one of their awards, for your kindness. It has made me feel very, very humble; and I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything that I may be able to do in the future. I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry. My heart is too full to tell you just how I feel, and may I say thank you and God bless you."
After her Oscar win she continued to play bigger roles in movies but was subjected to being typecast as a maid. She was later criticised by African Americans for taking roles that demeaned black people by only portraying them as servant to their white masters. In her reposense to that she said: 
 "Why should I complain about making $700 a week playing a maid? If I didn't, I'd be making $7 a week being one."
How can you not like someone who is that honest about her reality? Clearly Ms McDaniel knew that in the times she lived in she would starve if she did not take the opportunities that she was afforded in the time when many of her peers were not as fortunate.

Ironically, it is her playing those "demeaning" roles that led to doors being opened for African Americans and subsequently for all blacks across the world in Hollywood. Mo'nique honoured McDaniel in her acceptance speech at the 82th Oscars. She said;
"I want to thank Miss Hattie McDaniel for enduring all that she had to so that I would not have to." 
On the red carpet, Mo'nique further payed homage to Hattie by wearing the same kind of flowers on her hair as did Hattie when she attended the Oscars in 1940. Mo'nique said of her choice of outfit to honour McDaniel:
"The reason why I have on this royal blue dress is because it's the color that Hattie McDaniel wore in 1940 when she accepted her Oscar. The reason why I have this gardenia in my hair -- it is the flower that Hattie McDaniel wore when she accepted her Oscar. So for you, Miss Hattie McDaniel, I feel you all over me," 
Hattie McDaniel died in 1952. Unfortunately this legend's passing was marred by racial controversy. Prior to her death at age 57 from breast cancer, she had written that she would love to be buried at The Hollywood Cemetery on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood which was the resting place of numerous movie stars. 

The owner, Jules Roth, refused to allow her to be buried there, because they did not take black people. Her second choice was Rosedale Cemetery, where she lies today. 

According to Wikipedia, in 1999, Tyler Cassity, the new owner of the Hollywood Cemetery, who had renamed it Hollywood Forever Cemetery, wanted to right the wrong and have McDaniel interred in the cemetery. 

Her family did not want to disturb her remains after the passage of so much time, and declined the offer. Hollywood Forever Cemetery instead built a large cenotaph memorial on the lawn overlooking the lake in honor of McDaniel. It is one of the most popular sites for visitors.

The modest star who is famous for boldly stating that "Faith is the black person's federal reserve system" will forever be remembered as the pioneer who paved the way for every black actor in the world to dream of being on that stage.

For me personally my respect for Hattie McDaniel is summed up in just one quote of hers that reads; 
Every actor and actress is possessed of the absorbing passion to create something distinctive and unique.
I am not an actor but being in this industry you are faced with the same challenge all the time in whatever capacity you in within this business.

This year Viola Davis is touted to win an Oscar for her performance in The Help if she is nominated.

Watch Hattie McDaniel's Oscar speech below;


Anonymous said...

Wow! How strange that I've never heard of this woman b4. Thanx for sharing Phil

PhilMphela said...

Pleasure Zabambo

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