Hattie McDaniel (June 10, 1895 – October 26, 1952) was an American actress, singer-songwriter, and comedienne.
In 1931, McDaniel scored her first small film role as an extra in a Hollywood musical. Then in 1932, she was featured as a housekeeper in The Golden West. McDaniel continued to land parts here and there. But, as roles for black actors were hard to come by, she was once again forced to take odd jobs to make ends meet.
She is best known for her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind (1939) for which she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, making her the first Oldest African American actress (44) to win an Academy Award.
The Loew’s Grand Theater on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, Georgia, was selected by the studio as the site for the premiere of Gone with the Wind, Friday, December 15, 1939. As the date of the premiere approached, all the black actors were advised they were barred from attending, excluded from being in the souvenir program, and banned from appearing in advertisements for the film in the South. Studio head David Selznick asked that Hattie McDaniel be permitted to attend, but MGM advised him not to because of Georgia’s segregation laws. Clark Gable threatened to boycott the Atlanta premiere unless McDaniel was allowed to attend, but McDaniel convinced him to attend anyway.
McDaniel had been attacked by the media for taking parts that perpetuated a negative stereotype of blacks; she was criticised for playing servants and slaves who were seemingly content to retain their role as such.
Walter White, then president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, pleaded with African-American actors to stop accepting such stereotypical parts, as he believed they degraded their community. He also urged movie studios to start creating roles that portrayed blacks as capable of achieving far more than cooking and cleaning for white people.
While many blacks were happy over McDaniel’s personal victory, they also viewed it as bittersweet. They believed Gone With the Wind celebrated the slave system and condemned the forces that destroyed it. For them, the unique accolade McDaniel had won suggested that only those who did not protest Hollywood’s systemic use of racial stereotypes could find work and success there.
Since her death, McDaniel has been posthumously awarded two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Additionally, in 1975, she was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.
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