The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures are replacing “Gone with the Wind” actress Hattie McDaniel’s lost Oscar 80 years after her historic win for Best Supporting Actress.
In 1940, McDaniel took home a plaque in lieu of an Oscar statue, as was customary for supporting actors at the time. Statuettes became the standard for all winners’ categories for the ceremony in early 1944. While the whereabouts of McDaniel’s original award is currently unknown, the Academy is bestowing a new Oscar statuette in the late actress’ honor to the Howard University Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts.
McDaniel originally bequeathed her Academy Award to Howard University upon her death in 1952. The award was displayed at the university’s drama department until the late 1960s when it disappeared.
McDaniel was the first Black person to be nominated for and win an Academy Award. It took more than half a century for another Black woman to win an acting Oscar, when Whoopi Goldberg won Best Supporting Actress for “Ghost.” Halle Berry later became the first Black woman to win Best Actress for her work in “Monster’s Ball.”
“Hattie McDaniel was a groundbreaking artist who changed the course of cinema and impacted generations of performers who followed her,” Academy CEO Bill Kramer said in an official statement. “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.”
Howard University will host a ceremony titled “Hattie’s Come Home” at its Ira Aldridge Theater in Washington, D.C., on October 1 to mark the homecoming of the award. The event will include opening remarks by Phylicia Rashad, Dean of the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts at Howard University, the performance of a medley of songs from current students and faculty of the College, and an excerpt of “Boulevard of Bold Dreams,” a play by LaDarrion Williams.
Representatives of the Academy and the Academy Museum will be at the ceremony, including Jacqueline Stewart, Ph.D., Director and President of the Academy Museum, and Executive Vice President of Oscars Strategy Teni Melidonian, who will present the plaque to the university. Stewart will host a moderated conversation about McDaniel’s career with Greg Carr, Ph.D., Howard University Associate Professor of Africana Studies and Chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies; Rhea Combs, Ph.D., Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery; Kevin John Goff, filmmaker, actor and Hattie McDaniel’s great-grandnephew; Khalid Long, Ph.D., Howard University Associate Professor of Theatre Arts, author, director and dramaturg; and Rashad.
“When I was a student in the College of Fine Arts at Howard University, in what was then called the Department of Drama, I would often sit and gaze in wonder at the Academy Award that had been presented to Ms. Hattie McDaniel, which she had gifted to the College of Fine Arts,” Rashad said in an official statement. “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!”
In addition to replacing the award, the Academy Museum has honored and contextualized McDaniel’s legacy in both the Academy Awards History Gallery and its temporary exhibition, “Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971.”
Over the course of her career, McDaniel appeared in approximately 300 films. The daughter of slaves, McDaniel called winning the Oscar for “Gone With the Wind” as “one of the happiest moments of my life” in her acceptance speech, which will be on display along with her award.
“It has made me feel very, very humble and I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything I may be able to do in the future,” McDaniel said in 1940. “I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry. My heart is too full to tell you just how I feel. And may I say thank you and God bless you.”
McDaniel garnered criticism for portraying maid Mammy in the Antebellum romance-epic that has since received a contextual disclaimer on streaming platform Max.
“I would rather make $700 a week playing a maid than earn $7 a day being one,” McDaniel famously said in response to the backlash (via ABC News). To note, McDaniel formerly worked as a maid prior to her acting career. McDaniel died of breast cancer in 1952 age 59.
The Academy has been revisiting its Oscars history as of late, with actress and activist
Sacheen Littlefeather receiving an apology after enduring “abuse” since making history onstage in 1973. Littlefeather infamously turned down the Academy Award on behalf of “The Godfather” winner Marlon Brando.
“The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified,” former Academy President David Rubin wrote in a letter. “The emotional burden you have lived through and the cost to your own career in our industry are irreparable. For too long the courage you showed has been unacknowledged. For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.”
Littlefeather was a guest of honor at “an evening of healing and Indigenous celebration” hosted by the Academy Museum in Los Angeles in 2022 shortly before Littlefeather’s death.