Mandatory Staff Picks: Celebrating the Best Black Actresses in Movie History

Great actresses make the ineffable effable, but black actresses haven’t been granted the same opportunities for meaty roles as, well everyone else. However, intrepid female performers of color have found a way to succeed in the face of discrimination.

This stretches back to 1940 when Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American to win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing Mammy in Gone with the Wind. You may have heard that movie (which takes place in the South during the Civil War) has very little respect for its black characters. Hollywood also had very little respect for McDaniel. On the night of the Academy Awards, she wasn’t allowed into the theater until receiving her award and had to read an acceptance speech written by the studio.

This is the type of deplorable marginalization that has existed in the entertainment industry. We don’t want to feel or think about it whilst sinking into our couches (and munching Doritos), but we do every time an actress gives an incredible performance in an otherwise limiting role. Hollywood is becoming more inclusive, but it still has a lot of work to do.

The following list compiles just a handful of the greatest black actresses to play Hollywood’s game and win (at least in our eyes), bringing to life unique characters and stories against insurmountable odds.

Photo: CBS

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