Every Black Actor to Win an Oscar

Every Black Actor to Win an Oscar

A star-studded list of history-making men who have won Academy Awards for Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor.

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It’s no secret the Oscars have been incredibly white over the years. Even when Black actors give transcendent, unbelievable performances, there’s always a slightly above average white actor who is destined to win. However, there have been 10 men who have managed to break through and become Academy Award winners. This is every Black actor to win an Oscar for acting.

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1963 - Sidney Poitier - Best Actor - Lilies in the Field

1963 - Sidney Poitier - Best Actor - Lilies in the Field

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It’s no surprise that Sidney Poitier is the standard bearer for all the other men on this list. He was first nominated in 1958 for The Defiant Ones, becoming the first Black actor nominated for Best Actor. He then made history when he became the first Black man to win the award in 1963. It seems only fitting that he received an Honorary Oscar in 2001 on the same night Denzel won for Best Actor and Halle won for Best Actress. He truly was an inspiration and role model for generations of Black actors.

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1982 - Louis Gossett Jr. - Best Supporting Actress - An Officer and a Gentleman

1982 - Louis Gossett Jr. - Best Supporting Actress - An Officer and a Gentleman

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Louis Gossett Jr. has had such a legendary career that being the first Black man to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor is a small part of it. Before he was ever an Oscar winner, he gave us Roots. Since he won, we’ve gotten Enemy Mine, Iron Eagle (if that’s your jam), Lonesome Dove, Lackawanna Blues, and of course Watchmen. While he is 100 percent the best thing in An Officer and a Gentleman, that’s not the role most people know him from.

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1989 - Denzel Washington - Best Supporting Actor - Glory

1989 - Denzel Washington - Best Supporting Actor - Glory

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Including his most recent Best Actor nomination for The Tragedy of Macbeth, Denzel has been recognized for his stellar acting nine times by the Academy. His first came in 1988 for Cry Freedom. Three years later he picked up his first of two trophies for Glory. Though it seems obvious now, an up and coming Black actor winning over living legends like Marlon Brando and Martin Landau was a huge upset at the time. Apparently, this is one of those rare cases where the Academy just couldn’t ignore someone’s talent.

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1996 - Cuba Gooding Jr. - Best Supporting Actor - Jerry Maguire

1996 - Cuba Gooding Jr. - Best Supporting Actor - Jerry Maguire

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There’s no doubt that Cuba Gooding Jr. was great in Jerry Maguire. His acceptance speech is one of the most memorable moments in Oscars history. Looking back at the list of actors he was up against, his win is an even bigger upset. Edward Norton in Primal Fear and William H. Macy in Fargo were among the other actors nominated that year. It’s true, he hasn’t always chosen the best movies since then, but he’ll always be an Oscar winner.

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2001 - Denzel Washington - Best Actor - Training Day

2001 - Denzel Washington - Best Actor - Training Day

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After Sidney Poitier’s historic win for Lilies of the Field, it was 38 years before another man would win for Best Actor. And of course that man was Denzel Washington. Training Day was the third of Denzel’s seven Best Actor nominations, and if we’re being honest, he could have easily won at least six of those.

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2004 - Morgan Freeman - Best Supporting Actor - Million Dollar Baby

2004 - Morgan Freeman - Best Supporting Actor - Million Dollar Baby

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Honestly, there’s no such thing as a bad Morgan Freeman performance. Even in something like The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard he’s still Morgan Freeman! The legend has been nominated five times, but somehow this is his only win. He’s the kind of actor who demands you stop and watch what he’s doing whether it’s The Shawshank Redemption or Electric Company.

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2005 - Jamie Foxx - Best Actor - Ray

2005 - Jamie Foxx - Best Actor - Ray

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As brilliant and undeniable as Jamie Foxx is in Ray, his win was by no means a sure thing. He was up against Don Cheadle, Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio and Clint Eastwood. There’s also the Academy’s endless bias against comedians. Foxx was a double nominee, also competing in the Best Supporting Actor category for his work in Collateral. In the years since his win Foxx has mainly done action and comedy, but he always has that same charm that captivated us in Ray.

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2006 - Forest Whitaker - Best Actor - The Last King of Scotland

2006 - Forest Whitaker - Best Actor - The Last King of Scotland

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Over the course of his career, Forest Whitaker has done literally everything. From his start in Fast Times at Ridgemont High to Bird to Black Panther, he’s been amazing in every genre. His performance as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland was so brilliant that he swept through awards season and was as close to a sure thing as anyone has ever seen. Now he’s taking over TV as Bumpy Johnson in the hit series Godfather of Harlem.

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2016, 2018 - Mahershala Ali - Best Supporting Actor - Moonlight, Green Book

2016, 2018 - Mahershala Ali - Best Supporting Actor - Moonlight, Green Book

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Mahershala Ali is the rare actor who is both instantly recognizable and also able to seamlessly blend into any role. Moonlight and Green Book are two very different performances, but equally captivating and brilliant. Mahershala has officially hit “will watch in anything” status. In fact, we’re still reeling over his lack of nomination for Swan Song.

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2021 - Daniel Kaluuya - Best Supporting Actor - Judas and the Black Messiah

2021 - Daniel Kaluuya - Best Supporting Actor - Judas and the Black Messiah

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After breaking onto the scene with his first nomination in 2017 for Best Actor in Get Out, it didn’t take long for Daniel Kaluuya to win his first Oscar. As Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah, Kaluuya embodied the legendary figure, while also giving an individual standout performance. Based on the work we’ve seen from him, we’re confident this is only the beginning of his award-winning career.

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