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African American Actors In The Running For Oscars

Via: WCBD News CH.2

This morning, Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Lee Daniels (the stars and director of Precious, respectively) and the legendary Morgan Freeman (who embodied Nelson Mandela in Clint Eastwood’s Invictus) were all recognized for their acclaimed work in film with Academy Award nominations. By most accounts this was a better than average showing for African-Americans in the film industry. These significant achievements follow a decade of considerable success for African-Americans on the awards circuit and beg the question: are the Oscars finally colorblind?

Ever since their inception, the Academy Awards have had a rocky history when it comes to recognizing African-American performers. As Hollywood’s highest honor, most actors and actresses covet “the Oscar” regardless of race. But for blacks it can also be a major acknowledgment of acceptance and status in a still mostly white-dominated industry.

In 1939, Hattie McDaniel, after enduring the indignity of being barred from her own film’s premiere, was the first black performer recognized by the academy, winning the best supporting actress award for the stereotypical role of ‘Mammy’ in Gone with the Wind. The next time a black actor was nominated was in1948 and the next time one actually won a prize was in 1963, when Sidney Poitier became the first black man to win best actor for Lilies in the Field.

In the decades that followed African-Americans were rarely nominated and hardly ever won. The exclusion of blacks became so consistent that black Hollywood heavyweights began holding a secret “black Oscars” on the eve of the actual ceremony in the early 1970s. Over the years, performers like Will Smith, James Earl Jones, Whitney Houston and Samuel L. Jackson would get together with their peers in the industry and honor their own.

African-Americans undeniably broke ground this Oscar season. Sidibe is the first black woman to be nominated for best actress since Halle Berry won and Daniels is only the second African-American to be nominated for best director in the academy’s history (the only other black best director nominee was John Singleton in 1991 for Boyz N the Hood).

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