Who Was the First African-American Actress to Win an Academy Award?

Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American actress to win an Academy Award when she was named Best Supporting Actress in 1940 for her role in “Gone With the Wind.” McDaniel was publicly criticized by some people in the African-American community for accepting an award that she earned for playing a servant, which some people believed was a racist portrayal. Over the course of her acting career, McDaniel appeared in almost 300 films. After her death from breast cancer in 1952, her award was donated to Howard University, but it went missing in 1971, and its whereabouts had not been discovered as of early 2014.

More about African-Americans and the Academy Awards:

  • Director John Singleton was not only the first African-American to be nominated for directing, he also was the youngest nominee in history at 24 years old.

  • Sydney Poitier became the first African-American male to win an Academy Award when he was named Best Actor in a Leading Role for his role in the 1963 film “Lillies of the Field.”

  • The year 2002 was the first time that Best Actor and Best Actress both went to African-Americans: Denzel Washington and Halle Berry, who became the first African-American woman to win Best Actress.

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