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Entertainment Profile: Hattie McDaniel

by Kenney Dennard

Throughout the years of cinema, although there have been many changes within the industry, few things remain the same. Blacks continue to have a hard time getting recognized in Hollywood. Sure there have been significant progress made in the last few years in the likes of Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Jamie Foxx and Halle Berry, but a long look at the winners in the last 82 years echoes discrimination.

Hattie McDaniel was one of the first trailblazing black actresses to make an impact in Hollywood. Throughout her career she was a professional singer, songwriter, comedian, actress, radio and television star. She was definitely destined to entertain. But because of the period of time she came up in, it was very hard to get a role in a movie playing anything other than a maid. Hattie gladly accepted what she was given, although the black press, the NAACP and many others in the community didn't agree with her choices. Hattie would argue, "I'd rather get paid 700 dollars a week to play a maid than get paid 7 dollars to be one." Often times, McDaniel had to actually pick up side work as a maid in between acting jobs.

Her hard work would pay off when getting offered the part of "Mammy" in "Gone with the Wind," in 1939. It would premier at Loew's Grand Theatre on Peachtree St in Atlanta. Thousands of Atlanta citizens lined up in the streets to watch the motorcade that carried the film's stars. Because of Georgia's Jim Crow laws, McDaniel couldn't attend the premier.

McDaniel's role as the sassy servant would allow her to become the first African American to get nominated for and to win an Oscar.

Throughout the rest of her acting career, Haitie played mostly maids and servants. She would star in over 100 movies. McDaniel was still quite active in radio after she stopped filming movies. She would become very well known for her radio show, "Beulah." She then starred in televisions version of the show for one season before becoming ill with breast cancer. That Cancer would kill her a year later.

After Hattie McDaniel won the Oscar in 1939, it would be 51 years before another black female won. In 1991, Whoopie Goldberg won for her supporting role in "Ghost." 16 years later Jennifer Hudson would win for her role in "Dreamgirls" for Supporting Actress. Finally in 2009, Mo'Nique won for supporting role in "Precious." Halle Berry is the only black female to win for a leading role for her part in Monster's ball.

Those are 5 black actresses in 82 years of Academy Awards. Out of the five, the biggest winner, Halle Berry, had to almost literally have sex with a white man in "Monster's Ball," Hattie McDaniel played a sassy maid and Monique won for a playing foolish ghetto woman. All were stereotypical roles. Even Whoopie's somewhat, but that's Hollywood.

Regardless, Hattie McDaniel knocked down racial barriers. She is to be honored and remembered for her lifetime of work.

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Hattie McDaniel