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The First-Ever Academy Awards Were Handed Out Today… How Have Blacks Fared Since Then?

The First-Ever Academy Awards Were Handed Out Today... How Have Blacks Fared Since Then?

Today in historyMay 16th, 1929… the first Academy Awards, the Oscars, were presented at Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel; Wings won the award for Best Picture; Emil Jannings for Best Actor; and Janet Gaynor for Best Actress.

Since that beginning, we’ve seen roughly 160 to 180 black actors nominated in every category (not just the majors); to put that in some perspective, in the ceremony’s 83 year history, there have been a total of at least 8300 nominees, in all categories. I’m basing that on the fact that there currently are about 25 different categories, with at least 4 nominees in each category (yes I know that wasn’t always the case, especially early on, but for much of the award’s history, going back to the 30s, there have been about 20 to 26 categories).

So, of the 8300+ nominees in Oscar history, about 2% have been people of African descent.

And of the 160 to 180 folks who were nominated, about 26 actually won! or about 1 win every 3 years on average, right?

Looking ahead to next year’s ceremony, which will award this year’s performance, it looks like Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer in The Help presents the best chance for an African American to win an award in any of the major or “minor” categories. At least, based on the information that’s available to me right now.

Looking further ahead… who knows…

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Dankwa Brooks

@Geneva Girl Tambay is right. I COULD NOT BELIEVE that Lee Daniels (while TOTALLY deserving) was the first African American to have his film nominated for Best Picture.

@Lynn I have NEVER been impressed before or after of Halle like I was in ‘Monster’s Ball’ I think she totally deserved the Oscar. I also think Cuba deserved the Oscar as did Jennifer Hudson. You have to keep in mind the Best Supporting is a “lesser category” and is usually given to achievements in creating a memorable standout character Whoppi Goldberg in ‘Ghost’, Marisa Tomei in ‘My Cousin Vinny’. Usually the people, like the ones I just mentioned are the only ones from the whole film who get nominated. I love, Love, LOVE Taraji P. Henson, but I didn’t think she did anything spectacular in ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’. While I liked his role in ‘Dreamgirls’ I didn’t think Eddie Murphy did anything special and thus not Oscar worthy either.

While the Oscars are totally a popularity contest MOST people finally get an Oscar for their body of work and not really that category. Scorsese for ‘The Departed’, Al Pacino for ‘Scent of a Woman’, Denzel Washington in ‘Training Day’ etc.

I agree the “the Oscars were not designed for us”. Neither were a lot of things ESPECIALLY the Presidency, but that shouldn’t stop us trying, to aspire and make them recognize.

I posted a blog entry featuring all the African American Oscar winners and notable nominees I could find through my own research at my blog Cool Black’s Media Madness ( ) a site very similar to S&A (which is why I dig posting here ;-)


@ Geneva Girl -short answer: nope! We’re actually doing worse behind the camera.

Geneva Girl

I’m curious, how many black people have been nominated outside of performing categories, acting and music. Are we seeing any progress behind the cameras?



I think the MOST deserving are; Sidney Poitier, Louis Gossette Jr., Hattie McDonald, Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker and Monique.

The LEAST deserving; Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball i don’t think her role was Oscar worthy i mean she had other great film roles that were way better on screen in my opinion.
Cuba Gooding Jr., Jennifer Hudson did not deserve those Oscars Cuba’s role in Jerry Maguire was BLAH and JHud’s role in Dream Girls was a little bit overrated.


Of all of “us” who won, which ones do you all think were MOST deserving? LEAST deserving? I’m no film expert (nor do I play one on TV) :-), but I’m still trying to wrap my head around Cuba’s win. Huh.


In the words of Idris Elba “the Oscars were not designed for us”.

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