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When Black Actors Made Oscar History

by Admin-Phmp
Published: Last Updated on

Text by Henrylito D. Tacio

Photos sourced from Wikipedia

The Academy Awards, more popularly known as the Oscars, are given for artistic and technical merit in the film industry. They are regarded as the most famous and prestigious awards in the entertainment industry around the world.

Most of the winners are white. In fact, in the acting categories, only very few black performers have been nominated. More importantly, only a handful of those nominated became winners.

BEST ACTOR: The first actor to receive a nomination was Sidney Poitier for his performance as Noah Cullen in The Defiant Ones (1958). The award that year, however, went to David Niven, who was great in Separate Tables (the same movie which earned Wendy Hiller an Oscar for supporting role).

Five years later, Poitier again received a nomination for his Homer Smith role in Lilies of the Field (1963). When he was announced to be the winner, it was greeted with a roar of approval. He was only 37 when he won, making him the youngest black actor to win the prestigious award in a leading role.

In 1970, James Earl Jones got a nomination for his performance in The Great White Hope. The award, however, went to George C. Scott, who delivered a tour de force performance in Franklin J. Schaffner’s Patton.

In 1972, Paul Winfield received a nomination for Sounder. He went home a loser since the award went to Marlon Brando, who starred in The Godfather. Brando sent a young Native American woman to refuse his Oscar.

The 1980s saw two black actors nominated: Dexter Gordon in 1986 for Round Midnight and Morgan Freeman in 1989 for Driving Miss Daisy. Both failed to win. Paul Newman got the 1986 Oscar for The Color of Money while Daniel Day-Lewis won the 1989 trophy for My Left Foot.

In 1992, Denzel Washington got his first Oscar nomination for Malcolm X; Al Pacino won the award for Scent of a Woman. The following year, Laurence Fishburne was nominated for What’s Love Got to Do with It. He emerged a loser since it was Tom Hanks who won the award for Philadelphia.

Morgan Freeman received his second nomination for The Shawshank Redemption (1994). Unfortunately, he failed to receive the award again, which went again to Tom Hanks for his performance in Robert Zemeckis’s Forrest Gump. His third nomination was for Invictus (2009).

In 1999, Denzel Washington got his second nomination for The Hurricane. He failed to win the award again (which went to Kevin Spacey for American Beauty), but he won the elusive award in 2001 for Training Day. He received three more nominations: Flight (2012), Fences (2016), and Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017).

Will Smith got two Oscar nominations: Ali (2001) and The Pursuit of Happyness (2006). He failed to win in his first attempt as the award went to Washington. In his second nomination, the award again went to another black actor: Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland.

Aside from Washington, another black actor who was nominated in 2017 was Daniel Kaluuya for Get Out. The award that year went to Gary Oldman, who won it for Darkest Hour.

In 2004, two black actors were nominated: Jamie Foxx for Ray (who won the award) and Don Cheadle for Hotel Rwanda. The following year, Terrence Howard was nominated for Hustle & Flow. The year 2013 saw Chiwetel Ejiofor nominated for 12 Years a Slave.

This year, the late Chadwick Boseman is nominated for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. He is expected to get the Oscar, which would make him the first black actor to get it posthumously. 

Best Actress: The first woman to get a nomination was Dorothy Dandridge for Carmen Jones (1954). Grace Kelly won the Oscar for The Country Girl.

In 1972, two actresses were nominated. Diana Ross got a nomination for Lady Sings the Blues and Cicely Tyson for Sounder. Liza Minnelli won the Oscar for Bob Fosse’s Cabaret.

In 1974, Diahann Carroll got a nomination for Claudine. It was Ellen Burstyn who won the award for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. In 1985, Whoopi Goldberg was nominated for her performance in The Color Purple. Geraldine Page won the award for The Trip to Bountiful.

In 1993, Angela Bassett was nominated for her portrayal of Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do with It. She failed to win the award, which went to Holly Hunter for The Piano.

In 2001, Halle Berry made history when she won the award for Monster’s Ball.

The other actresses who received nominations for a leading role include Gabourey Sidibe for Precious (2009), Quvenzhane Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), Ruth Negga for Loving (2016), and Cynthia Erivo for Harriet 2019).

Viola Davis got her first nomination for The Help (2011). She again nominated this year for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom along with Andra Day for The United States vs. Billie Holiday.

Best Supporting Actor: So far, five actors won the award for this category: Louis Gossett, Jr. for An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), Denzel Washington for Glory (1989), Cuba Gooding, Jr. for Jerry Maguire (1996), and Morgan Freeman for Million Dollar Baby (2004).

Mahershala Ali won the award twice: Moonlight in 2016 and Green Book (2018).

Washington was also nominated for Cry Freedom while Freeman also got nomination for Street Smart; they were competing against each other in 1987, but the award that year went to Sean Connery, who was great in The Untouchables.

Other actors who received nominations were Rupert Crosse for The Reivers (1969), Howard Rollins for Ragtime (1981), Adolph Caesar for A Soldier’s Story (1984), Jaye Davidson for The Crying Game (1992), Samuel L. Jackson for Pulp Fiction (1994), Michael Clarke Duncan for The Green Mile (1999), Jamie Foxx for Collateral (2004), Eddie Murphy for Dreamgirls (2006), and Barkhad Abdi for Captain Phillips.

Djimon Hounsou was nominated twice: In America (2003) and Blood Diamond (2006).

This year, three actors are competing against each other: Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield, both for Judas and the Black Messiah, and Leslie Odom, Jr. for One Night in Miami.

Best Supporting Actress: Hattie McDaniel was the first-ever black thespian to receive an Oscar for her performance in 1939’s Gone with the Wind.

Other winners in this category were Whoopi Goldberg for 1990’s Ghost, Jennifer Hudson for 2006’s Dreamgirls, Mo’Nique for 2009’s Precious, Octavia Spencer for 2011’s The Help (who got two more nominations for 2016’s Hidden Figures and 2017’s The Shape of Water), Lupita Nyongó for 12 Years a Slave, Viola Davis for 2016’s Fences (who was also nominated in 2008 for Doubt), and Regina King for 2018’s If Beale Street Could Talk.

The following actresses were also nominated: Ethel Waters for 1949’s Pinky, Juanita Moore for 1959’s Imitation of Life, Beah Richards for 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Alfre Woodward for 1983’s Cross Creek, Margaret Avery and Oprah Winfrey for 1985’s The Color Purple, Marianne Jean-Baptiste for 1996’s Secrets & Lies, Queen Latifah for 2002’s Chicago, Sophie Okonedo for 2004’s Hotel Rwanda, Ruby Dee for 2007’s American Gangster, Taraji P. Henson for 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Naomie Harris for 2016’s Moonlight, and Mary J. Blidge for 2017’s Mudbound

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