In Development: A Biopic About Hattie McDaniel, The First Black Oscar Winner


January 18, 2018


Photo credit: John Kobal/ Getty Image

The list of pending major motion picture biopics for notable African Americans continues to grow! Next up: Hattie McDaniel.


During the 2002 Academy Awards, Halle Berry was announced the winner in the “Best Lead Actress” category for her role in 2001’s “Monster’s Ball.” With this win, Halle became the first Black woman to win in that category. Alongside her that evening, Denzel Washington also won “Best Lead Actor” for his role in 2001’s “Training Day.” Denzel became the second black man to win this Oscar category. At that time, people also remembered Sidney Poitier’s 1964 notable Oscar win which made him the first black man to win the “Best Lead Actor” category.

However, prior to that moment in 1940, a woman named Hattie McDaniel became the first ever African American person to be recognized with an Academy Award for her supporting role as “Mammy” in “Gone With the Wind.” While Sidney, Halle, and Denzel’s respective historic wins sparked renewed interest in honoring and acknowledging the significant barriers that Hattie McDaniel helped to break down for them to be awarded, there is much more to Hattie’s story than has ever been told.

Born in 1893 to parents who were freed slaves, McDaniel started her career in entertainment as a vaudeville performer in variety shows across the U.S. She also became one of the first Black performers to appear on a radio show named “The Golden West” in 1932. After her historic Oscar nod, McDaniel was credited with opening Hollywood’s eyes to write roles with more depth for African American actors and actresses.


Even though McDaniel was recognized for her role in “Gone With the Wind,” she and other Black cast members were actually not even permitted to attend the opening of the movie held in Georgia because they were Black. She wrote an article in 1947 that was printed in “The Hollywood Reporter,” explaining: “My own people were especially happy. They felt that in honoring me, Hollywood had honored the entire race. That was the way I wanted it. This was too big a moment for my personal back-slapping. I wanted this occasion to prove an inspiration to Negro youth for many years to come.”

And what an inspiration her tireless work became! Recently, producers Alysia Allen and Aaron Magnani have agreed to collaborate on a production that will tell the story of the pioneering McDaniel’s life. The film will be based on the 2007 biography written by California State University History Professor, Jill Watts entitled Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood.”

The producers are currently searching for a screenwriter to appropriately adapt the book for a film project. There is not yet an anticipated completion date for this project.


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