Black Oscar Firsts: A Brief History of the Trailblazing Academy Award Winners in Each Category (LISTEN)

todayMarch 29, 2022 2

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by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

You might know about Hattie McDaniel, Sidney Poitier or Halle Berry being the first Black recipients of Oscars in their respective acting categories, but have you ever wondered who were the first in all the others? Writing? Producing? Hair and Make-Up? Sound?

Today’s GBN Daily Drop podcast is a bonus episode for Sunday, March 27 — the day the 94th Academy Awards ceremony are being held — that takes note of every Black Oscar first:

You can follow or subscribe to the Good Black News Daily Drop Podcast through Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or create your own RSS Feed. Or just check it out every day here on the main website.


Hey, this Lori Lakin Hutcherson, founder and editor in chief of, here to share with you a bonus daily drop of Good Black News for Sunday, March 27th, 2022, based on the format of the “A Year of Good Black News Page-A-Day Calendar” published by Workman Publishing.

The 94th Academy Awards ceremony is being held today and with Will Packer producing, Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall among the hosts and Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Aunjanue Ellis and Questlove among the nominees, I thought I’d take a brief look at the talented Black people in film who were the first in their category to ever win an Oscar.

The very very first was Hattie McDaniel, who won in the Best Supporting Actress category for the 1939 film Gone With The Wind.

In 1948, actor James Baskett received a special Academy award for his characterization of Uncle Remus in Song of the South, but the next to win an award in competition was Sidney Poitier in 1963, who won Best Actor for his role in Lilies of the Field.

It took almost a decade after that for the next win, which was Isaac Hayes in the Original Song category for 1971’s “Theme from Shaft.”

[Excerpt from “Theme from Shaft”]

Up next 11 years later was Lou Gossett, Jr. for his Best Supporting Actor win in 1982 for An Officer and a Gentleman.

[Excerpt of “The Beautiful Ones”]

In 1984 Prince won Best Original Song Score for Purple Rain, and he was the first and last Black person to win in that category because after 1984, it was retired as a category from the Academy.

Contrary to popular belief, Prince didn’t win for the actual song “Purple Rain” — the Original Song Oscar that year went to Stevie Wonder for “I Just Called to Say I Love You” from the film The Woman in Red.

[Excerpt of “I Just Called To Say I Love You”]

The following year, in 1985, jazz titan Herbie Hancock took home the Oscar for his Original Score for ‘Round Midnight.

And jazz kept the Gold Guys a coming – in 1988 Willie D. Burton accepted the Best Sound Oscar for his and his team’s work on the Charlie Parker biopic Bird, and in 1994, though nominated for several of his scores, the Oscar that Quincy Jones brought home was the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

In 2001, Halle Berry won the Best Lead Actress Oscar for her work in Monster’s Ball, and 2009 saw Roger Ross Williams win for Best Documentary Short Subject for Music By Prudence and Geoffrey Fletcher won for Best Adapted Screenplay for Precious, which was based on the novel Push by Sapphire.

In 2012, T.J. Martin won for Best Documentary Feature for Undefeated, and in 2013, Steve McQueen shared his Best Picture Oscar with his producing partners for 12 Years A Slave.

In 2017, NBA legend Kobe Bryant won in the Best Animated Short Film category for Dear Basketball, and Jordan Peele won in the Best Original Screenplay category for Get Out.

The following year, Peter Ramsey won an Oscar in the Animated Feature Film category for co-directing Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. 2018 also saw Ruth Carter win in the Costume Design category for her work on Black Panther and Hannah Beachler for Production Design for the same marvel of a movie directed by Ryan Coogler.

And for 2020, Travon Free won in the Best Live Action Short Film category for Two Distant Strangers, and Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson took home Oscars in the Make-Up and Hairstyling category for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

To learn more about Black Academy Award winners and nominees, read Black Oscars: From Mammy to Minny, What the Academy Awards Tell Us About African Americans by Frederick Gooding, Jr. and check out the links to more sources provided in today’s show notes and in the episode’s full transcript posted on

This has been a bonus daily drop of Good Black News, based on the “A Year of Good Black News Page-A-Day Calendar for 2022,” published by Workman Publishing.

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