In a remarkable and long-awaited gesture, the film industry is set to right a historic wrong dating back 60 years. Hattie McDaniel, the trailblazing actress who became the first Black person to win a competitive Academy Award, will finally see her missing Oscar returned to its intended home.
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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in collaboration with the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, will bestow a replacement Oscar for Hattie McDaniel’s outstanding supporting actress performance in “Gone with the Wind” (1939). The event, aptly titled “Hattie’s Come Home,” is scheduled to take place at the Ira Aldridge Theater in Washington D.C. on October 1, 2023.
Hattie McDaniel’s life and career were characterized by groundbreaking achievements, but it was her historic Academy Award win that made her an icon in the film industry. The ceremony aims to celebrate her indomitable spirit, honor her unparalleled talent, and fulfill her long-cherished wish of donating the Oscar to Howard University, a prominent historically black college.
Phylicia Rashad, dean of the College of Fine Arts at Howard University, will deliver the opening remarks at the ceremony. The event promises to be a multi-faceted tribute, featuring a medley of songs performed by current Howard University students and an excerpt from LaDarrion Williams’ poignant play, “Boulevard of Bold Dreams.”
Jacqueline Stewart, the president of the Academy Museum, and Teni Melidonian, executive vice president of Oscars strategy, will jointly present the replacement Oscar to Howard University. In addition to this presentation, Jacqueline Stewart will host a conversation with distinguished guests including Phylicia Rashad, Howard University professors Greg Carr and Khalid Long, Thea Combs from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, and Kevin John Goff, filmmaker and Hattie McDaniel’s great-grandnephew.
In a joint statement, Stewart and Bill Kramer, CEO of the Academy, expressed their excitement, saying, “Hattie McDaniel was a groundbreaking artist who changed the course of cinema and impacted generations of performers who followed her. We are thrilled to present a replacement of Hattie McDaniel’s Academy Award to Howard University. This momentous occasion will celebrate Hattie McDaniel’s remarkable craft and historic win.”
Dean Phylicia Rashad, who has played a significant role in organizing the event, shared her enthusiasm: “I am overjoyed that this Academy Award is returning to what is now the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts at Howard University. This immense piece of history will be back in the College of Fine Arts for our students to draw inspiration from. Ms. Hattie is coming home!”
Hattie McDaniel’s groundbreaking achievement took place in 1940 when she became the first Black person to be nominated for and win a competitive Academy Award. However, her triumph was marred by the racial segregation of that era, as she and her guest were forced to sit separately from the film’s other nominees during the 12th Academy Awards ceremony held at the segregated Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel.
Before her passing in 1952, Hattie McDaniel had made it clear that her Oscar should find its way to Howard University. For years, speculation swirled about the whereabouts of the missing Oscar. Was it lost, or had it been destroyed in a protest? The mystery remained unresolved until now.
While the original Oscar has eluded discovery, McDaniel’s full speech and her win have found their place in the museum’s Academy Awards History Gallery. However, the vitrine that holds her empty spot will remain as a poignant reminder of her legacy, as the other 19 featured statuettes in the room continue to rotate.
In reuniting Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar with Howard University, this historic event not only corrects an injustice but also pays homage to an actress who, through her talent and determination, broke barriers and left an indelible mark on the world of cinema.