From legends to superstars to actual superheroes, the list of Black women who have won Academy Awards is unexpected and fascianting. It’s a The list illustrates how far Black women have come in Hollywood, while also illustrating how much is left to go with the large time gaps between some wins. There are very few sure things on this list. Every single one of these women were shocked to be recognized for their talent. No matter how famous you are, it never stops being an uphill climb. With that in mind, this is every Black actress to win an Oscar.
1939 - Hattie McDaniel - Best Supporting Actress - Gone with the Wind
The literal definition of a trailblazer, Hattie McDaniel is the first Black person to ever win or be nominated for an Academy Award. None of the success Black actors enjoy today would be possible without her. At the ceremony, she had to sit at a segregated table and wasn’t allowed into a segregated club with her white co-stars. Because McDaniel won her Oscar for playing Mammy, she never really got the full credit she deserved for breaking down barriers.
1990 - Whoopi Goldberg - Best Supporting Actress - Ghost
Fifty years after Hattie McDaniel, another Black woman finally won an Oscar. It’s important to note that within that time women like Juanita Moore, Alfre Woodard and Oprah Winfrey were all nominated for Best Supporting Actress. So none of them were good enough to win? Ok, sure. This was not an easy category for Whoopi as she was up against Annette Bening in The Grifters, Lorraine Bracco in Goodfellas, Diane Ladd in Wild at Heart and Mary McDonnell in Dances with Wolves. Plus, the Academy rarely recognizes comedy, so this was a groundbreaking moment for so many reasons.
2001 - Halle Berry - Best Actress - Monster’s Ball
Dorothy Dandridge, Diahann Carroll and Angela Bassett are just some of the legends nominated for Best Actress before Halle Berry won for Monster’s Ball. Since then, we’ve seen nods for Viola Davis, Ruth Negga and Cynthia Erivo. And yet, Halle is still the only Black woman to ever win the award. Plus, she didn’t even get the Oscar bump after winning. She wasn’t given the instant credibility of Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock. Berry has been very vocal about how she still has to constantly prove herself.
2006 - Jennifer Hudson - Best Supporting Actress - Dreamgirls
If you saw Jennifer Hudson on American Idol, you were not at all surprised at her vocals in Dreamgirls. However, her acting was a revelation. For a newcomer to breakthrough with such an undeniable performance was amazing. There was actual applause in the theater during the credits like it was a Broadway show. Though I guess it can’t be too surprising, it’s right there in the title of the song, “And I Am Telling You, I’m Not Going.”
2009 - Mo’Nique - Best Supporting Actress - Precious
There’s nothing the Academy loves more than a comedian who goes full gritty drama. For some reason they would never reward Mo’Nique for making audiences laugh so hard they cry, but if she just makes you cry, that’s worth a trophy. The admirable thing about Mo’Nique’s win is that she didn’t play the Oscar campaign game. She didn’t make appearances at parties and screenings to shake hands, she just let her work speak for itself, proving that it’s perfectly ok to bet on yourself.
2012 - Octavia Spencer - Best Supporting Actress - The Help
Looking back there are definitely some issues with The Help. However, none of those problems are with Octavia Spencer, who steals every moment she’s on screen. Aibileen is the center of the story, but it’s Minny who keeps the audience engaged and invested in the story. Spencer has been nominated two more times for Best Supporting Actress, but it’s only a matter of time before she jumps into the Best Actress category.
2013 - Lupita Nyong’o - Best Supporting Actress - 12 Years a Slave
The hard truth is that the Academy does love giving Black actors awards for playing slaves. Despite this fact, I would never suggest Lupita did not deserve every bit of the recognition she received following her heartbreaking work in 12 Years a Slave. She’s so brilliant, it’s the kind of performance you can only watch once, because it’s too real. Lupita Nyong’o is such a talented renaissance woman, being an Oscar winner is like the tenth most impressive thing about her.
2017 - Viola Davis - Best Supporting Actress - Fences
Here’s the thing, every time Viola Davis is on the stage or screen she gets nominated for an award. And it’s absolutely 100 percent deserved every single time. Viola Davis sitting on a stool reading the phone book would be a captivating movie, because she’s that awesome. Just when you think you’ve seen her best performance, here she comes with something new that you didn’t know she could do. Do you know how spectacular you have to be to steal the focus from Denzel in his movie that he’s starring in and directing? Yes, you just have to be Viola Davis.
2018 - Regina King - Best Supporting Actress - If Beale Street Could Talk
Having literally watched Regina King grow up, there was something extra special about seeing her win an Oscar. It was like a member of the family was being celebrated. It’s even more exciting to see all the success she’s achieved since winning, because as noted earlier, Black actresses don’t necessarily get the same Oscar bump as white actresses. Long before she won an Academy Award, Regina was already a successful actress/director, it’s just now the rest of the world knows what we have since 227.