Celebrating Juneteenth with Oscar-Winning Black Actors

Celebrating Juneteenth with Oscar-Winning Black Actors

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Happy Juneteenth! This week, we’re taking the opportunity to practice active allyship by learning more about the history of the Juneteenth holiday and its importance.

If you are unfamiliar, let’s begin with a mini-history lesson.

June 19th is the day the slaves were granted freedom, specifically the slaves in Texas and other southern, Confederate states that were fighting to keep their slave labor. Since 1865, Black Americans have celebrated June 19th by honoring the contributions of African Americans to our country and spending time with loved ones in a celebration of Black culture.

No conversation about Black culture would be complete without recognizing its vast influence on entertainment. From music to television to film, black cultural contributions have been integral. As we roll into this Juneteenth holiday, let’s shine a light on Oscar-winning black actors and actresses. There remains much work to be done to fix the problem of underrepresentation in Hollywood, but these bright Black stars broke racial barriers to help pave the way for all people of color in the arts.

Hattie McDaniel, Gone With the Wind (1940)

McDaniel was the very first Black Oscar winner in 1940, and being the daughter of two slaves, this was an incredible feat. She won best supporting actress for her role as Mammy in Gone With the Wind. She wasn’t even allowed in the hotel where the Oscars were being held, and the producer of the film had to appeal to the hotel to grant her entry to accept her award.

Isaac Hayes, Shaft (1972)

Technically not an actor, but Hayes humbly accepted his Oscar for best original song in 1972, for his musical work in creating the iconic Shaft soundtrack. If you haven’t seen the film or listened to the film score, definitely do both to take a trip back in time to the groovy 70s.

Denzel Washington, Glory, Training Day (1990, 2002)

One of the few Black actors with multiple Oscars, Denzel won best supporting actor in 1990 for Glory and won best actor in 2002 for Training Day. Washington said he is constantly inspired by Sydney Potier, who was the first Black man to win an Oscar for best actor in 1964.

Whoopi Goldberg, Ghost (1991)

In 1991 won best supporting actress for her role in Ghost, accepting her award from former Oscar winner, Denzel Washington. During her acceptance speech she exclaimed how becoming an actress was her lifelong dream, especially as a kid who grew up in the projects of New York.

Halle Berry, Monster's Ball (2002)

For the first time ever in 2002, a Black woman won best actress- and of course, it was Halle Berry! (Who doesn’t love Halle?!) During her acceptance of the Academy Award for her role as Leticia Musgrove in Monster’s Ball, she was overcome with emotion and spoke on how she hoped this would be a step in the right direction for all women of color in the arts.

Jamie Foxx, Ray (2005)

Emulating the iconic Ray Charles was no easy task, but the diversely talented Jamie Foxx wowed American audiences with his realistic portrayal of the late artist in Ray. He won best actor for the role in 2005, joining fellow Black Oscar best actor winners Halle Berry and Denzel Washington.

Forest Whitaker, Last King of Scotland (2007)

In 2007, Forest Whitaker took home the big prize of best actor for his role in Last King of Scotland, playing Uganda’s fierce and problematic ruler Idi Amin. Fun fact: Whitaker says he remained in character even when he was not on the set, and to prepare for his role, he put on nearly 50 pounds of fat!

Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls (2007)

From the stage of American Idol to the big screen, Jennifer Hudson has had quite the rise to fame! In 2007 she walked across a different stage to accept her award for best supporting actress for her role in Dreamgirls. We definitely recommend watching the film just to witness Hudson’s powerful vocals, we promise you’ll get chills!

Octavia Spencer, The Help (2012)

In 2012 Octavia Spencer took home the prize for best supporting actress for her role as Minny Jackson in The Help. Co-star Viola Davis, who was nominated for best actress, expressed regret at her participation in the film, because she felt that it failed to show the true perspective of the black maids: "I just felt that at the end of the day, that it wasn't the voices of the maids that were heard. [..] If you do a movie where the whole premise is, I want to know what it feels like to work for white people and to bring up children in 1963, I want to hear how you really feel about it. I never heard that in the course of the movie."

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight (2017)

Most recently in 2017, Mahershala Ali won an Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in the Academy Award winning film, Moonlight. Mahershala, who plays Juan, made a lasting impact on Alex Hibbert, who plays Little in the film. When Juan teaches Little how to swim, Mahershala is really teaching Alex how to swim - he didn't know how when the production began!

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