The 12th Academy Awards ceremony was held on February 29, 1940, at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, with Bob Hope hosting. Gone With The Wind was nominated for 13 awards and won for Outstanding Production, Directing (Victor Fleming), Actress (Vivien Leigh), Art Direction (Lyle Wheeler), Cinematography (Color) (Ernest Haller and Ray Rennahan), and Film Editing (Hal Kern and James Newcom). Sidney Howard posthumously received the Writing (Screenplay) award, and production designer William Cameron Menzies received a special award for “outstanding use of color for the enhancement of dramatic mood in the production of Gone With The Wind.” In the Actress in Supporting Role category, Hattie McDaniel made history becoming the first African American to receive an Academy Award.
It was about this time that Gone With The Wind began to play in African American theaters, which were usually third- or fourth-tier theaters in the distribution chain. Because of what they had found in the novel, many reviewers for African American newspapers were apprehensive about the film. Many complained that the depiction of African Americans as happy in their subservient roles was offensive. Others commended the film for eliminating offensive scenes and dialog that were present in the novel. After the Academy Awards, praise in the African American press for the performances of Butterfly McQueen, Oscar Polk, Eddie Anderson, and, in particular, Hattie McDaniel, was passionate, even in those papers that criticized the film as a whole.
Despite her Academy Award, better film roles did not materialize for Hattie McDaniel. Nor did film roles improve for African Americans in general. For more than two decades, parts for African Americans were largely limited to servants and entertainers until Sidney Portier won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1964 for Lilies of the Field.
Receive the Harry Ransom Center’s latest news and information with eNews, a monthly email. Subscribe today.