An Insight on the African American Actors 

by Naveen K. Gupta




                                                 Hattie McDaniel

We, and here I mean all ordinary Indians, are born with a twin curse, when it comes to making it in Politics or Showbiz on our own! You better have pedigree, an unending stream of godfathers or godmothers or just plain luck. No wonder we wallow in mediocrity and love it.

But then Barrack Hussein Obama has broken a glass ceiling that was over 234 years old and despite you may be full of venom for Uncle Sam or be its unabashed crony, you’ve to admit that in America there is a certain amount of transparent democracy, that we have years to catch up with!

The Presidency of United States was a glass ceiling that was the last frontier for African Americans. Athletics or Sports like Baseball and Basketball had its share of coloured legends, who outnumbered the White athletes, probably ten to one. Similarly was the case with Music and other performing arts. The two most stubborn bastions that remained out of the grasp of blacks were literature and motion pictures. It was indeed Hollywood that would employ them in thousands but do everything to deny them that coveted golden statuette-the Oscar, in almost every field, as long as it could. But in the history of Hollywood, there have been some outstanding performers who stood up due to the sheer force of their talent and be counted, till that magical evening of 2002!

Since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences began handing out honors in 1927, till date, only ten Black thespians had grasped the coveted golden statuette .They were: Hattie McDaniel, Sidney Poitier, Lou Gossett Jr., Denzel Washington,  Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding Jr., Jamie Foxx, Morgan Freeman, Forest Whittaker and Jenifer Hudson

Hattie McDaniel, immortalized on the silver screen in the classic ‘Gone With the Wind,’won the best supporting actress in 1939 for her portrayal of a servant, Mammy. Ms. McDaniel was the first Black actress to win the prestigious film honor and the first Black ever nominated. She also in 2006 became the first black Oscar winner to be honoured with a US postage stamp.

  Sidney Poitier      Denzel Washington


 Louis Gossett Jr.   Cuba Gooding Jr.



More than two decades passed before another Black actor won the award. Sidney Poitier was named best actor in 1963 for his role in ‘Lilies of the Field.’ The film was the heart warming story of a Black-American itinerant worker, Homer Smith who encounters a group of East German nuns, in Arizona desert. The Nuns are convinced he has been sent to them by God to help them build a new chapel.

Another two decades were to pass down the line when playing a tough gunnery sergeant in ‘An Officer And A Gentleman,’ earned Louis Gossett Jr. a best supporting actor Oscar in 1982.

Slowly and very reluctantly, Hollywood started to take notice, after losing in the best supporting actor race in 1987 for his work in ‘Cry Freedom,’ Denzel Washington won in 1989 for the Civil War saga ‘Glory.’ The win made him only the second Black man since Gossett to snag an Oscar for best supporting actor.




Whoopi Goldberg    Halle Berry

Comic-turned-actress Whoopi Goldberg was nominated for best actress in 1985 for ‘The Color Purple,’ but did not win. Ms. Goldberg, however, did capture the best supporting actress award in 1990 for ‘Ghost’.

In 1996,Cuba Gooding Jr. with his war cry, “show me the money!” from the film ‘Jerry Maguire’,   as the wide receiver Rod Tidwell of Arizona Cardinals, virtually bulldozed his way into Oscar history, as best supporting actor.

In 2002, history came to a standstill when Halle Berry won the Academy Award for the best actress for her powerhouse performance as the drunkard widow, Leticia Musgrove struggling to raise morbidly obese son for the film ‘Monster’s Ball. Denzel Washington won the Oscar for best actor for ‘The Training Day’, as the corrupt Alonzo Harris a highly decorated police narcotics officer. That very evening Sidney Poitier was awarded the Oscar for life time achievement.

Eric Marlon Bishop, better known by his stage name Jamie Foxx, is an Academy Award-winning American actor, singer, musician and stand-up comic continued to hammer the point by winning the award for best actor for the biopic ‘Ray’ in 2004. The very night Morgan Porterfield Freeman, Jr. actor, film director and narrator won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Eddie 'Scrap Iron' Dupris, in ‘Million Dollar Baby

Forest Steven Whitaker,  actor, producer, and director won an Academy Award for his performance as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the 2006 film ‘The Last King of Scotland.’ and became the fourth African American male to win an Academy Award for Best Actor, following in the footsteps of Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, and Jamie Foxx.

Jennifer Kate Hudson, actress and singer who first gained notice as one of the finalists on of the  television series ‘American Idol’, went on to star in the 2006 motion picture ‘Dream girls’, for which she  won an Academy Award for best supporting actress

Other Blacks who have won Oscars for achievements in film include: James Baskett, who won a special Oscar in 1947 for his portrayal of Uncle Remus in ‘Song of the South.’ Isaac Hayes, best song of the year for Theme for the 1972 movie ‘Shaft’. Irene Cara, best song for ‘What a Feeling!’ from the 1983 movie ‘Flash dance.’ Stevie Wonder, best song for ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You,’ from the 1985 movie ‘Lady in Red’. Lionel Richie, best song for’ Say You Say Me,’ from the 1986 movie ‘White Nights’ Herbie Hancock, best original score for the 1987 documentary ‘Round Midnight’ and Russell Williams II, won an Oscar in the sound category for the 1991 movie ‘Dances With Wolves.’

And yet Eddie Murphy, Samuel L. Jackson, Will Smith, Laurence Fishburne and James Earl Jones plod on! And nobody talks about the late Paul Robeson.




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