The first competitive Oscar ever awarded to a Black person, the best supporting actress Oscar that Hattie McDaniel won for her performance in Gone With the Wind in 1940, went missing from Howard University (to which McDaniel bequeathed it after her death in 1952) sometime in the late 1960s. This is acknowledged at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Hollywood, where a row of Oscars on loan to the institution are on display, with one empty display case in the middle, for McDaniel’s.
But on Tuesday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that it will be rectifying this situation by gifting Howard University’s Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts a replacement Oscar. The one that McDaniel received in 1940 was not a statuette, but a plaque, as all supporting acting winners received from 1936 to 1942. But the replacement will be a proper Oscar, which will be presented at a celebration of McDaniel’s life and legacy at Howard’s Ira Aldridge Theater on Oct. 1, entitled “Hattie’s Come Home.”
The event will include opening remarks by Phylicia Rashad, dean of the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts; the performance of a medley of songs from current students and faculty of the college; and an excerpt of Boulevard of Bold Dreams, a play by LaDarrion Williams. Representatives of the Academy and the Academy Museum will be at the ceremony, including Jacqueline Stewart, Ph.D., director and president of the Academy Museum, and Teni Melidonian, executive vp Oscars strategy.
Stewart will also host a moderated conversation about McDaniel’s career with Greg Carr, Ph.D., Howard University associate professor of Africana studies and chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies; Rhea Combs, Ph.D., director of curatorial affairs at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery; Kevin John Goff, filmmaker, actor and Hattie McDaniel’s great-grandnephew; Khalid Long, Ph.D., Howard University associate professor of theater arts, author, director and dramaturg; and Rashad.
“Hattie McDaniel was a groundbreaking artist who changed the course of cinema and impacted generations of performers who followed her,” Stewart and Academy CEO Bill Kramer said in a statement. “We are thrilled to present a replacement of Hattie McDaniel’s Academy Award to Howard University. This momentous occasion will celebrate Hattie McDaniel’s remarkable craft and historic win.”
“When I was a student in the College of Fine Arts at Howard University, in what was then called the Department of Drama, I would often sit and gaze in wonder at the Academy Award that had been presented to Ms. Hattie McDaniel, which she had gifted to the College of Fine Arts,” said Rashad. “I am overjoyed that this Academy Award is returning to what is now the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts at Howard University. This immense piece of history will be back in the College of Fine Arts for our students to draw inspiration from. Ms. Hattie is coming home!”
At the 12th Academy Awards, held at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub, McDaniel was seated in the back of the room, near the kitchen. When her name was called, she delivered the following emotional acceptance speech, which was captured by newsreel cameras: “Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science[s], fellow members of the motion picture industry and honored guests. This is one of the happiest moments of my life, and I want to thank each one of you who had a part in selecting me for one of the awards for your kindness. It has made me feel very, very humble and I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything I may be able to do in the future. I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry. My heart is too full to tell you just how I feel. And may I say thank you and God bless you.”