Hattie McDaniel was born on June 10, 1893. She started her acting career as a vaudeville performer in variety shows. During the 1920s, she already made a name for herself in the industry and started to make changes by becoming one of the first Black performers to show up on a famous radio show called, “The Golden West.” However, people ignored her talent and didn’t respect her job much. She used to constantly receive negative responses from the white and black communities. Nevertheless, McDaniel never stopped and continued to be a change and inspiration for other Black people to work in Hollywood.
Her continuous contribution to the industry paved the way for Black people to work as an actor and showed diversity in Hollywood. In 2021, Global Genesis group declared that they would be making the latest biopic about McDaniel’s life and her character will be played by Raven Goodwin. Rick Romano, who is the president of Global Genesis group informed me that it’s exciting to be involved in narrating a story of a woman who is a part of American history. The story of Hattie McDaniel is meaningful and needs to be heard by everyone. It’s important for people to know the stories of individuals like Hattie McDaniel who dealt with so many things in order to stand alone and be an inspiration. Raven Goodwin will be playing Hattie McDaniel and will show an honest look into her life, he added.
He went on, “Hattie you made it. It was your legacy that we are able to write and portray ourselves in whatever light we choose and will be honored forever.” He is looking forward to digging out some significant historical and real stories to reel life. To know more about the first Black Oscar Winner, continue to read. Hattie McDaniel was the youngest child of 13 children born to a deprived couple, Henry and Susan. Her mother used to do domestic jobs while her dad served in the Civil Conflict as a part of the Tennessee 12th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment.
Hattie and her siblings were explorers in the Denver, Colorado entertainment scene. Hattie’s family used to face difficulties in making daily ends. Her father worked for years and years to get support from the U.S. government. Hattie spent most of her time singing in the choir and realized that she was made for the entertainment industry. Once Hattie shared that she knew she could sing and dance and she was doing it so much so often that her mother had to stop her. When the family shifted to Denver, she and her 12 siblings became entertainment explorers in the surrounding area and began doing plays and reviews for Black people.
In 1914, Hattie with her sister formed a company called, “McDaniel Sisters Company” by putting on an all-woman minstrel show. Hattie took a mammy role, many minstrel shows served as critiques and showed spoofs of the unacceptable stereotypes created by whites. During the 1920s, she began working as a blues singer and soon promoted herself as “The Old Pep Machine” and the “Sepia Sophie Tucker.” She recorded a number of blues numbers such as ” Dentist Chair Blues.” Regardless of all her fantastic work, Hattie still has to face situations where she can’t make ends meet.
So, McDaniel started to work in different places as a cook or domestic worker. In 1929, she lost her job after the stock market flaked out. Hattie was left in Milwaukee and with no choice had to work as a restroom attendant at a nightclub. One night she got the opportunity to perform in front of an audience. She made headlines because of that as the nightclub was closed during the worldwide economic inflation. She again left the place with $20 and landed in Hollywood. In Hollywood, Hattie became the actress to play characters for maid and “Mammy”.
While the characters that she played were considered defamatory, after years of dealing to meet ends. She decided to use the influence to make changes in the industry for other emerging Black actors while keeping herself financially stable. Once she said, she can be a “mammy” for $7 a week or can play a ” mammy” for $700 a week. McDaniel then got a role in “Gone With The Wind” through her brother, Sam McDaniel who was also a successful actor at that time. It is this movie that allowed Hattie to make history as the first Black to achieve an Oscar.
She won an Academy Award in 1940 for her character in Gone With The Wind. However, she was not allowed to attend the movie premiere because of differences. But her win was noted as she created history. During Hattie’s acceptance speech she said, she hopes that she shall always be credited to her race and the industry. The leader of NAACP, Walter White had long-run issues with the work of Hattie, Lincoln Perry, and Louise Beavers. However, Hattie tried to clear herself, but White continued to lambast her in the media and attempted to blacklist her among the Black people in Hollywood in support of actresses such as Lena Horne. According to White, she was the only Black film star to present to the whole community.
In the 1942 NAACP meeting once again in front of 10,000 delegates, White let go of Hattie while speaking good words about Lena. However, Hattie shared that she doesn’t have any issues with the NAACP or colored fans who have issues with the characters played by Black actresses. But she naturally dislikes being completely ignored at the meeting. Hattie attempted for more than 11 years to open up chances for her group in Hollywood and has tried to show credit for her race in both real and reel life. White and Hattie remained at odds for several years and she even refused to attend a meet held in 1946 which was conducted to bring various Black actors together.
Upon not accepting the invitation she replied back that Walter White has openly offended her for her talent and intelligence. He and others are not aware of the other talents she has and they are not menial as he has claimed to be one. McDaniel also worked with the local chapters to save her house in Sugar Hill. She used to host parties where her close friends like Cab Calloway, Paul Robeson, and Duke Ellington used to come. In the year 1945, when white homeowners tried to push people of Sugar Hill out, Hattie was the one to organize a protest with more than 200 supporters in court. Lawyer Loren Miller was with them and successfully won the case.
In 1947, Hattie took over the title character on the very famous radio show Beulah. She continued to work until her health began to get complicated. On October 26, 1952, she left the world and was entombed in Rosedale churchyard. In 1999, a memorial was placed in the Hollywood Forever churchyard to honor her.