That it has taken till 2013 for black women to be poised to set a record by reaping three Supporting Actress nominations at the Oscars is shocking. (The term “African American” is not appropriate in this instance as some of the women hail from the UK or Africa.)
Lupita Nyongo (“12 Years a Slave“) looks like a lock after racking up bids from the Globes, SAG and Critics’ Choice while Oprah Winfrey (“The Butler“) remains a strong contender despite being snubbed by the Globes. And don’t count out 2011 Oscar champ Octavia Spencer (“The Help) for her subtle but powerful performance in “Fruitvale Station.” (Read about the 13 performers who reaped Oscar bids without a Globe, SAG or Critics’ Choice nomination here.)
Winfrey was part of the pair that set the current record set back in 1985 when she and Margaret Avery contended for “The Color Purple”; they lost to Angelica Huston (“Prizzi’s Honor”).
This benchmark was equalled in 2008: Viola Davis (“Doubt”) and Taraji P. Henson (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) were among those bested by Penelope Cruz (“Vicky Christina Barcelona”). Davis went on to become the second black women to have reaped two Oscar nominations when she contended in the lead category in 2011 for “The Help”; she lost to her “Doubt” co-star Meryl Streep for “The Iron Lady.”
The first black woman to have two Oscar nominations to her name is Whoopi Goldberg. While she lost her 1985 Best Actress bid for “The Color Purple” to Geraldine Page (“The Trip to Bountiful”), she prevailed in 1990 for her scene-stealing featured role in “Ghost.”
Goldberg — who had picked up a Grammy in 1985 (Best Comedy Album: “Whoopi Goldberg – Original Broadway Show”) — won an Emmy in 2002 for producing “Beyond Tara: The Extraordinary Life of Hattie McDaniel,” a documentary on the 1939 Oscar champ. Fifteen days later, she completed the EGOT when a show she produced, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” won Best Musical at the Tonys.
That no other black woman won the Supporting Actress Oscar from in the 51 years between McDaniel’s for “Gone With the Wind” and Goldberg is staggering. As you will see from the list below, only six women were even in the running during that half century drought.
However, while just one more black woman reaped a bid in the 1990s, eight have contended since the turn of this century and three — Jennifer Hudson (“Dreamgirls,” 2006), Monique (“Precious,” 2009) and Spencer (“The Help,” 2011) — have won.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Hattie McDaniel (“Gone with the Wind,” 1939)
Ethel Waters (“Pinky,” 1949)
Juanita Moore (“Imitation of Life,” 1959)
Beah Richards (“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” 1967)
Alfre Woodard (“”Cross Creek,” 1983)
Margaret Avery (“The Color Purple,” 1985)
Oprah Winfrey (“The Color Purple,” 1985)
Whoopi Goldberg (“Ghost,” 1990)
Marianne Jean-Baptiste (“Secrets and Lies,” 1996)
Queen Latifah, (“Chicago,” 2002)
Sophie Okonedo (“Hotel Rwanda,” 2004)
Jennifer Hudson (“Dreamgirls,” 2006)
Ruby Dee (“American Gangster,” 2007)
Viola Davis (“Doubt,” 2008)
Taraji P. Henson (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” 2008)
Monique (“Precious,” 2009)
Octavia Spencer (“The Help,” 2011)
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