In a year when movies like 12 Years a Slave have captivated audiences around the globe, the Academy Awards tonight will have 10 prominent black entertainers as presenters—the most ever in its 86-year history.
The star-studded list includes Viola Davis, nominated for Doubt and The Help; Jamie Foxx, who won best actor for Ray; Whoopi Goldberg, who won best supporting actress for Ghost; Samuel L. Jackson, nominated for best supporting actor for Pulp Fiction; Michael B. Jordan; Tyler Perry; Gabourey Sidibe, nominated for best actress for Precious; Will Smith, nominated for best actor for Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness; and Kerry Washington.
The historic aspect of the evening will in some respects be underscored by the presence of Sydney Poitier, the pioneering black actor won the Academy Award for best actor in 1963 as African Americans were embroiled in the struggle for civil rights. He was the first African American to win in the best actor category.
Poiter, 87, will be among the presenters, and there will be no mistaking his role as elder statesman. He won for his role in Lilies of the Field. In a sign of how much the country has changed, he is perhaps best known for his role in the groundbreaking 1967 film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the story of a young white woman who brings a black boyfriend home to meet her parents.
This year also marks the 75th anniversary of Hattie McDaniel breaking the color barrier with her best supporting actress win for Gone With the Wind.