Will Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer of ‘The Help’ make Oscars history?

Gold Derby’s Oscarologists are predicting that Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer will win Academy Awards for their performances in “The Help.” This would be the first time in Oscar history that two African Americans won for the same film. (VIEW GALLERY of all the African American Oscar champs.)

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There have been three occasions when two African Americans won acting Oscars for different films. The first of those was a decade ago when Halle Berry (“Monster’s Ball”) and Denzel Washington (“Training Day”) prevailed in the lead races. And, as one of our forum posters, Corey Champagne, points out, there are striking similarities between then and now. 

In 2001, Berry beat Sissy Spacek (“In The Bedroom”) for the Oscar. Spacek, who also appears in “The Help,” had won the Globe while Berry had taken home the SAG Award. That is the way the precursor prizes have played out this year for Davis and Meryl Streep (“The Iron Lady”). 

In 2001, the Oscars bestowed an honorary Oscar on Sidney Poitier, the first African American to win Best Actor (“Lillies of the Field,” 1963). Washington was the second to do so, a fact he referenced in his acceptance speech.

This year, the Academy similarly feted James Earl Jones at the Governors Awards. Jones was the first African American to win Best Actor in a Play at the Tony Awards (“The Great White Hope,” 1969). He contended for the same prize at the Oscars the following year for reprising his role on film; he lost to George C. Scott (“Patton”). One-time Oscar nominee Oprah Winfrey (“The Color Purple”) was also honored this year with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. 

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In 2001, the Academy Awards were hosted for the fourth time by Whoopi Goldberg, who had been the first woman and the first African American to solo on the show when she emceed the 1993 Oscarcast. This year, Eddie Murphy had been slated to be the third African American solo host.

Chris Rock had presided over the 2004 show which was the second time two African American performers prevailed — Best Actor Jamie Foxx (“Ray) and Supporting Actor Morgan Freeman (“Million Dollar Baby”). The most recent of the double wins was in 2006 when Forest Whitaker won Best Actor for “The Last King of Scotland” and Jennifer Hudson claimed Supporting Actress for “Dreamgirls.” 

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Davis is the ninth African American Best Actress nominee, following Dorothy Dandridge (“Carmen Jones,” 1954), Diana Ross (“Lady Sings the Blues,” 1972), Cicely Tyson (“Sounder,” 1972), Diahann Carroll (“Claudine,” 1974), Goldberg, Angela Bassett (“What’s Love Got to Do with It,” 1993), Berry (“Monster’s Ball,” 2001) and Gabourey Sidibe (“Precious,” 2009).

African American women have contended 16 times for Best Supporting Actress with Hattie McDaniel (“Gone with the Wind,” 1939), Goldberg (“Ghost,” 1990), Hudson (“Dreamgirls,” 2006), and Mo’Nique (“Precious,” 2009) prevailing. 

McDaniel was the first African American — male or female — to win an Academy Award. Berry thanked McDaniel during her emotional acceptance speech while Mo’Nique paid tribute to this pioneer by dressing in a similar fashion. Below, the touching video of McDaniel receiving her trophy more than seven decades ago.

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