Replica of Hattie McDaniel’s Historic Oscar to Return to Howard University in ‘Hattie’s Come Home’ Ceremony
In the annals of Hollywood history, few stories have intrigued as much as the mysterious disappearance of Hattie McDaniel’s Academy Award. McDaniel, a trailblazer in the film industry, became the first African American to win an Academy Award in 1939 for her supporting role in the timeless classic, “Gone With the Wind”. But the location of her award, a symbol of triumph against racial prejudice, has eluded historians for decades.
A Historic Win Amidst Prejudice
McDaniel’s Oscar win was a landmark event in a time of deep racial segregation. At the 12th Academy Awards, despite being an awardee, McDaniel was seated at a segregated table, underscoring the discrimination prevalent at the time. Yet, her acceptance speech was a testament to resilience and hope, as she expressed her desire to be a credit to her race and the film industry.
Unlike today’s statuettes, McDaniel’s Oscar was a plaque, a common form of award for supporting actors from 1936 to 1942. This plaque, symbolic of her groundbreaking achievement, vanished in the late 1960s, leaving a void in the preservation of Hollywood history.
Legacy Bequeathed to Howard University
Upon her death in 1952, McDaniel willed her Oscar to Howard University in Washington D.C., a historically black institution known for its commitment to advancing racial equality. The Oscar was displayed in the university’s drama department until it mysteriously disappeared.
Despite the lack of concrete documentation of the award’s whereabouts after its disappearance, it is believed to have been at Howard University until the late 1960s. The disappearance of McDaniel’s award has been a subject of speculation and controversy, with rumors suggesting it may have been lost or destroyed in a protest.
Recreating History: Hattie’s Come Home
In a move to honor McDaniel’s legacy and rectify the historical omission, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, along with the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, have created a replica of her award. This replica will be presented to Howard University in a ceremony titled “Hattie’s Come Home”, scheduled for October 1 at the university’s campus.
The ceremony, to be conducted at the university’s Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts, will feature opening remarks by Phylicia Rashad, Dean of the College of Fine Arts. The event will also include performances by current students and a conversation with industry and academic professionals about McDaniel’s career and impact.
A Symbol Returns Home
The initiative to recreate and present McDaniel’s award not only acknowledges her historic role in cinema but also signifies an effort to honor her memory. By returning the award to Howard University, it allows future generations of black actors to draw inspiration from McDaniel’s courage and trailblazing career.
While the mystery surrounding the original award may never be solved, the symbolic return of McDaniel’s Oscar to Howard University serves as a poignant reminder of her historic win, her struggle against racial prejudice, and her indelible impact on the film industry.
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