Just one decade into the event’s history, the Academy encounter what would become one of the biggest controversies in Oscars history. In 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first Black actor to win an Academy Award, but because of the “whites only” policy at the Ambassador Hotel, producer David O. Selznick had to call in a favor just to get her in the building.
After she accepted her Best Supporting Actress trophy for her performance in Gone With the Wind, McDaniel wasn’t permitted to sit with the rest of her costars, including Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable. Instead, organizers forced her to sit in the back of the room at a small table with her agent and her escort.
When Mo’Nique became the fourth Black woman to win Best Supporting Actress in 2010, she gave a shout-out to McDaniel in her acceptance speech. “First, I would like to thank the Academy for showing that it can be about the performance and not the politics,” said the Precious star, who wore a gardenia in her hair as McDaniel did 70 years earlier. “I want to thank Miss Hattie McDaniel for enduring all that she had to so that I would not have to.”
The awards show has continued to face accusations of racism over the years, perhaps most famously in 2016 when #OscarsSoWhite trended after all the major acting nominations went to white actors for the second year in a row. As a result, Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee said they would boycott the ceremony.
“How is it possible for the second consecutive year all 20 contenders under the acting category are white?” the Do the Right Thing director asked in a January 2016 Instagram post. “And let’s not even get into the other branches. Forty white actors in two years and no flava at all. We can’t act?! WTF!!”
Hollywood luminaries threatened a boycott again in 2022 after Oscars producers omitted eight technical categories from the live broadcast. Jessica Chastain, who won the Best Actress trophy that year, said she would skip red carpet interviews if they conflicted with the pre-show presentation of the makeup and hairstyling award.
“The most important thing for me is to honor the incredible artisans who work in our industry,” the Zero Dark Thirty actress explained during a March 2022 episode of the “Next Best Picture” podcast. “So much attention is on the actors, we’re like the face in some ways, because you go to a movie and you see us. A lot of people don’t understand how beyond an actor a performance is.”
When she accepted her trophy for The Eyes of Tammy Faye later that month, she gave a nod to the “incredible” hair and makeup team who worked on the film: Linda Dowds, Stephanie Ingram and Justin Raleigh. “[They] really helped me find her,” the Interstellar actress said.
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Keep scrolling for a look back at the biggest Oscars scandals and controversies in history: