It can’t have escaped your notice that not a single black person was nominated for an Academy Award this year. You could only have missed the #OscarsSoWhite controversy if you’d been living under a rock. Looking over the past 87 years of Best Actor and Actress Oscar winners, non-white people have only won a paltry 4% of the awards. It’s quite frankly embarrassing.
So what about those black Oscar winners then? Let’s take a moment to celebrate the black actors, actresses and directors who have been considered worthy of Oscars – it’s not enough, but you’ve got to start somewhere. Here’s our edit of the best Oscar-winning movies celebrating race and diversity – and we’re looking forward to next year’s nominations already…. #TooManyOldWhiteMen
In the Heat of the Night
Winning an impressive five Academy Awards, In the Heat of the Night was released in 1967, during the ongoing battle for civil rights in America. A black detective – played by Sidney Poitier – investigates the murder of a wealthy white man in racist small town Mississippi, and it’s tense, gripping thriller of a film. The Best Picture Oscar was most definitely deserved.
An obese, illiterate black teenager, pregnant with her second child – conceived through rape by her own biological father. The protagonist of Lee Daniels’ six-times nominated Precious is an unlikely one – and yes, it is a pretty grim premise for a film. But it’s ultimately a heartfelt, uplifting story, with some stellar performances including an Oscar-winning Mo’Nique as Best Supporting Actress.
The first ever African-American to win an Academy Award, Hattie McDaniel was awarded an Oscar in 1940 for her portrayal of Mammy in Gone with the Wind. McDaniel actually couldn’t attend the film’s premiere in Atlanta because of Georgia’s segregation laws, and she was forced to sit at a separate table at the Oscars ceremony.
The Color Purple
The Color Purple set a record for the most Academy Awards nominations without a single win – no less than 11. They included Best Picture and Best Actress – for Whoopi Goldberg, who made her screen debut in the 1985 film. Based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, the Spielberg-directed film follows the trials and tribulations of a young black woman in the early 20th century. It’s a moving, epic tale, full of joy, sadness – and hope.
The only African-American woman to ever win the Oscar for Best Actress, Halle Berry received the prize for her role in 2001 film Monsters Ball. A narrative of racism, abuse, relationships and unexpected twists of fate, Monsters Ball tackles big, tough themes head on – from loneliness and love to violence and grief. Berry’s complex, engaging performance as a grieving widow and mother earned her a well-deserved Academy Award.
Do The Right Thing
Frequently named as one of the best films ever made, and a critical and commercial success despite its controversial, hard-hitting storyline, Do The Right Thing received just two Oscars nominations in 1990. Director Spike Lee has since received the Honorary Academy Award for his contributions to film-making, yet never won an Oscar. Do The Right Thing is a dynamic, colourful picture of racial tensions, with a cracking soundtrack and captivating performances.
12 Years A Slave
Winning three Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress for Lupita Nyong’o), 12 Years A Slave was amongst the most critically acclaimed films of 2013. With engaging performances from the film’s leads and masterful direction from black British filmmaker Steve McQueen, this hard-hitting portrait of slavery in 19th century America is essential watching.
Driving Miss Daisy
Nine nominations and four wins at the 1990 Academy Awards, Driving Miss Daisy is a touching story of how people can overcome racism. Starring an Oscar-award-winning Jessica Tandy alongside Morgan Freeman, the film explores the relationship between a wealthy white Jewish woman and her African-American chauffeur, in the racially-segregated Deep South. Touching, funny and featuring two stellar performances, you can’t help but fall for Driving Miss Daisy.
How could we NOT mention Denzel? Six Oscars nominations (four times for Best Actor, twice for Best Supporting Actor), Mr Washington has won two Academy Awards to date. Triumphing as Best Supporting Actor in 1989’s Glory, 2001 saw him carry of the most coveted prize: Best Actor for his captivating performance as a corrupt cop in Training Day. Washington currently holds the record for the most Oscar nominations and wins by an actor of African descent.
The film that should have carried off all the Oscars. And didn’t. Acclaimed African-American director Ava DuVernay’s 2014 portrait of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches and Martin Luther King’s campaign for equal voting rights received only two Academy Award nominations, despite its universally positive reception from critics. Masterfully directed, and with a gripping performance by David Oyelowo as Luther King at its centre, Selma is the one that got away.
Set in 1960’s Mississippi during the Civil Rights era, The Help sees the black and white stories from both viewpoints. There’s the wealthy white families, and then there’s ‘the help’ – the maids who play an integral part in their everyday lives. Strong performances from an ensemble cast – including an Oscar-winning Viola Davis – elevate The Help from typical Hollywood fare to something much more substantial.
The first ever African-American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor, it’s Sir Sidney Poitier, if you please. Poitier’s career might have started off with washing dishes, but looking at the list of his awards and achievements you’d never believe it. His role as an itinerant handyman in 1963 film Lilies of the Field won him his first Best Actor Oscar, and he was awarded a further Honorary Oscar in 2002. A legend; no more, no less.