A timely exploration of Oscar-nominated Black actors and the complicated legacy of the Academy Awards.
In Black Oscars: From Mammy to Minny, What the Academy Awards Tell Us about African Americans, Frederick W. Gooding Jr. draws on American, African American, and film history to reflect on how the Oscars have recognized Black actors from the award’s inception to the present. Starting in the 1920s, the chapters provide a thorough overview and analysis of Black actors nominated for their Hollywood roles during each decade, with special attention paid to the winners. Historical patterns are scrutinized to reveal racial trends and open the question of whether race relations have truly changed substantively or only superficially over time.
Given the Oscars’ presence and popularity, it begs the question of what these awards reflect and reinforce about larger society. In the meticulously-researched Black Oscars, we see how the Academy Awards are an indispensable guide to understanding race in mainstream Hollywood and beyond.
Frederick W. Gooding Jr. holds the Dr. Ronald E. Moore Professorship in Humanities within the Honors College at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, TX. He is the author of You Mean, There’s RACE in My Movie?The Complete Guide to Understanding Race in Mainstream Hollywood and American Dream Deferred: Black Federal Workers in Washington, D.C., 1941-1981.
Highly Recommended . . . [Gooding] views the process of nominating films and actors for Academy Awards in the context of color. With the exception of chapter 1, the book is arranged chronologically by decade—from 1927–39 to 2000–19. Gooding starts with solid background on early Black roles in film and goes on to discuss the nominations and wins, starting of course with Hattie McDaniel, whose moving and quite humble acceptance speech has inspired actors of color since her 1939 win for her role in Gone with the Wind. Including an extensive bibliography, this book is noteworthy for its solid research and readability.
[Gooding] approaches the subject with clarity and compassion . . . refusing to judge ambitious performers for accepting roles as mammies and slaves or branching out from other fields into acting, while acknowledging that the prevalence of these characterizations and the failure of studios to hire trained black actors causes harm. He not only understands the complexity of the matter, but is able to pick apart the various elements and present them in a compelling matter. His thinking is academic, but he writes with fluidity, making the subject accessible.
4/20/21, USA Today: The author is quoted and the book is mentioned in an article, “What’s an Oscar really worth? Career boost is ‘not the same’ for Black actors, experts say.”
2/6/20: Author Frederick W. Gooding published an essay in EDIT Media (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Teaching): “Haven’t We Seen This Movie Before? Tired Sequels & Teaching the Oscars.”
6/3/20: The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education featured the book in their new books roundup, “Recent Books of Interest to African American Scholars.”