|In the 1939 film "Gone With the Wind" she was simply known as Mammy, a
strong, no-nonsense maid on the southern plantation, Tara. In fact while
Hattie McDaniel had over 80 films under her belt, she played the role of a
maid in an overwhelming number of those films. For this McDaniel received
some negative feedback from the African-American community. The NAACP even
led a campaign against "Gone With the Wind" and McDaniel for perpetuating
racial stereotypes. McDaniel heard and understood the context of the
criticism and was clear on her intent, "I'd rather play a maid and make $700
a week than be one for $7.00." She would receive a Best Supporting Actress
Oscar for her role in Gone with the Wind, the first for an African-American
McDaniel is being honored with an American Movie Classics documentary,
"Beyond Tara, The Extraordinary Life of Hattie McDaniel," on August 7, at 10
p.m. EST. The special examines her career in Hollywood and explores how the
actress, though cast in limited roles as a maid, brought distinct levels of
sophistication and humor. Whoopi Goldberg, the only other African-American
woman to win an Oscar, narrates the hour-long special.
McDaniel, the trailblazer and multi-talented actress, was the daughter of a
Baptist minister and began singing as a child. She was the first
African-American to sing on radio. She sang with Professor George Morrison's
Negro Orchestra in Denver. In the 1930s and 40s, she then went on to appear
on both the famous "Amos & Andy" and "Eddie Cantor" radio shows.
From 1947-51, McDaniel became the star of her own radio program, "Beulah"
which was so successful that a television sitcom was developed from it with
the same name. McDaniel went on to star in the 1951 sitcom, the first to
feature an African-American actress in the title role.
Unfortunately, McDaniel became ill in 1952 and made her transition. Even in
her death McDaniel faced the restrictions imposed by racism. Her personal
request to be buried in Hollywood was denied because she was black. But in
1999, McDaniel was finally honored with a memorial at the Hollywood Forever
Ceremony, 47 years after her death. She is now memorialized and rightly
remembered alongside such cinema legends as Cecil B. DeMille, Douglas
Fairbanks and John Huston.
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