The year is 1940. Wading through a sea of the industry's finest is the first African-American female Oscar winner. When her name is called she approaches the podium. Cloaked and crowned with flowers, she is glowing, iridescent. This latent icon delivers a beautiful speech, graciously receives her applause, and returns to her seat, a segregated table for two. A makeshift raft docked next to yachts. With this night, the world was changed. American media found its place for the Black Women.
Since her first soiree in the public eye the Black women has been the token friend on the guest list. Doing her best to socialize, she is first ignored, then overly simplified and surmised to be one dimensional. First, the “mammy.” Then, the “Jezebel,” the “baby mama,” the “gold digger,” and the “sassy sidekick.” Why has no one taken the time to get to know her? Society’s perception of black women has been molded by media portrayal. This has misaligned the trajectory, and their image is not congruent with their progressive impact on society. The hackneyed ideals imposed upon this demographic must dwindle as successful, educated black women become the new standard.
When Hattie McDaniel won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, Black women everywhere rejoiced. Despite the historical inaccuracies in the American classic Gone with the Wind, for many Black women this film was the first time the silver screen had doubled as a mirror. During this era, the faithful domestic was the most common occupation fulfilled by Black women (Watts). By portraying a character so commonplace in the African American community, and being awarded for doing so, McDaniel became a beacon of hope, making Black women everywhere feel recognized and celebrated. Unfortunately, this milestone was vulgarized and exploited.
By 1940, the mammy figure was not a new concept. Minstrel shows had been featuring this character for decades; however, when the caricature was featured in an award winning film, the negative connotations were all but forgotten. Suddenly, Mammy was the go-to when casting directors were required to meet a quota, marketing specialists needed to appeal to broader audiences, and Black actresses needed to find work. Mammy was beloved. She was large and jolly, loyal and acquiescent, black and relatable. Mammy was called “Aunt Jemima” to sell pancake mix, “Mrs.Buttersworth” to sell syrup, and “Mammy Two Shoes,” “Florida,” “Mama,” “Nel,” and “Annie,” to buy Black viewers. No one understood this phenomenon more than actresses like Louise Beaver. Despite her extensive filmography, her character is most often listed as maid; but because “Beavers' persona doubtlessly reflected at least some of the realities of black women's social backgrounds and careers,” this typecasting was at least partially excused (Overview of Louise Beavers,TCMDB).
With the civil rights movement came a time of rapid progress for women of color. Between the 1960s and the early 1990s the country was introduced to a...