As I spend the weekend putting the finishing touches on a web course on the Reconstruction Era, I am reminded of this moving speech by film star Hattie McDaniel, the first black person ever to be awarded the Academy Award. In the course, the final segment engages history and popular culture – in particular the film, Gone With the Wind. I focus on McDaniel’s portrayal of Mammy as well as a few notes on the actress herself. She was a fascinating woman off screen – a outspoken supporter of civil rights, she once lobbied the city of Los Angeles to purchase a home in an exclusive all-white neighborhood. Please take a moment to watch this clip – what does it suggest to you about race, historical memory, and Hollywood in 1940?
PS – the course will be live the week of January 18, 2016
Back when I was teaching a course on Reconstruction at UCR, we discussed a few scenes from Gone With the Wind. The discussion included Hattie McDaniel’s portrayal of Mammy as well as a few notes on the actress herself. She was a fascinating woman off the screen – a outspoken supporter of civil rights, she once lobbied the city of Los Angeles to purchase a home in an exclusive all-white neighborhood. We watched her Academy Award acceptance speech for her role as Mammy as well. What does this suggest to you about race, historical memory, and Hollywood in 1940?
It’s Oscar night here in Hollywood and the town is all a flurry. I have to admit, I get pretty excited myself – the ceremony is right down the street from my house and well, being a Hollywood type and all (snicker), I like to join in the revelry. Naturally, the history of the event interests me. So while many in the rest of the country are lambasting Hollywood for its superficiality and botox injections (by the way folks…you are the ones who flock to the movies and buy the fanzines so shut up. Really…it’s irritating) I’ll offer a just a little on the first ceremony.
The very first Academy Awards ceremony took place at a private dinner in the Blossom Room at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood (just a block west from where the ceremony takes place today) in May, 1929. Douglas Fairbanks hosted the event, which honored films made in 1927 and 1928. There were 270 people in attendance and the award presentations lasted just under 15 minutes. Wow…things have certainly changed.
And in case you are interested, the Best Picture nod went to Wings, a 1927 WWI fighter pilot drama starring Clara Bow, Charles Rogers, and Richard Arlen. You can check out the rest of the winners HERE.