Seeing a black person’s name in the same breathe as the Oscars has been some how kind of taboo but these following recipients have broken that curse and cemented their names in the list of the all time greats. Their work has been celebrated all over the world and they broke barriers which one never thought they were ought to be broken.
Here are 10 famous Black actors and actresses who broke racial barriers with their dramatic and comedic performances.
Sidney Poitier became the first Black man to win the coveted Best Actor prize for his role in Lilies of the Field. Despite Poitier’s historic accomplishment, the reality of racial discrimination was still very real when it was reported that some people found it offensive that actress Anne Bancroft, who presented the award to Poitier, kissed him on the cheek to congratulate him. Poitier would later receive an Honorary Award at the Oscars in 2002.
A child of two slaves, Hattie McDaniel became the first African American ever to win an Oscar. Portraying the head slave Mammy in David O. Selznick’s Gone with the Wind, McDaniel was forced to accept her award for Best Supporting Actress in a racially segregated hotel. Selznick, however, was able to pull some strings so that McDaniel could give her acceptance speech at the 12th Academy Awards. “I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything I may be able to do in the future,” she said. “I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry.”
Almost 40 years would pass until Denzel Washington became the second African American actor to win an Oscar. In 1990, he would win the Best Supporting Actor award for his role as a defiant Civil War soldier in Glory. Washington would make history again in 2002, with his Best Actor win for Training Day, making him the only African American thus far to have won multiple Oscars. Receiving his second award was especially poignant in that his mentor Poitier also received an Oscar that night. “Forty years I’ve been chasing Sidney [Poitier], they finally give it to me, what’d they do? They give it to him the same night,” Washington stated. “I’ll always be chasing you, Sidney. I’ll always be following in your footsteps. There’s nothing I would rather do, sir. Nothing I would rather do. God bless you. God bless you.”
It was hard to overlook Whoopi Goldberg’s hilarious and touching performance as psychic Oda Mae Brown in the romantic fantasy thriller Ghost — and the Academy agreed. Goldberg won Best Supporting Actress for her role in 1991 and as part of her acceptance speech, confessed that she had dreamed of winning an Oscar since she was a little kid. But what she didn’t confess (until decades later) was that she was high when she won. (To calm her nerves before the event, she had smoked a joint… and regretted the decision.) “Never smoke pot before there’s the possibility of having to talk to a hundred million people,” she said in a video from the 1990s, which was discovered and released by TMZ in 2011. “And, honey, when [Denzel Washington] said my name I popped up. I thought, ‘Oh, f–k! Oh, f–k!’” she recalled. “‘Okay, up the stairs. One, two, three, four, five. Okay, around the podium. There’s millions of people! Pick up the statue!’”
CUBA GOODING Jr
“Show me the Oscar!” That’s basically what Cuba Gooding Jr. was feeling after he found out he won Best Supporting Actor in 1997 for his portrayal as Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Rod Tidwell in the sports rom-com Jerry Maguire. Gooding was so overwhelmed by his win, he jumped around on the stage and screamed out “I love you!” several times, making everyone feel like Tidwell was back and was on the verge of doing his famous “Show me the money!” dance.
The 74th Academy Awards was a banner year for Black actors. Not only did Washington and Poitier take home Oscars, but Halle Berry also took home a golden statue for her dramatic role in Monster’s Ball, making her the only African American woman to date to have won in the Best Actress category. Feeling the gravity of her 2002-win, Berry’s speech was nothing short of dramatic as she tearfully addressed the world: “This moment is so much bigger than me,” she said. “This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It’s for the women that stand beside me, Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And it’s for every nameless, faceless woman of colour that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened. Thank you. I’m so honoured. I’m so honoured.”
Main Image; Essence