Unsung Black Heroines in Film

Being a black woman in the spotlight of the film industry can be a very delicate balance of being appealing to a majority-white audience while still being relatable to your black audience. On top of that, there is the constant struggle of race relations, sexism, and trying to fill the few roles given to these talented women. The few films that have come out beautifully expressing and empowering the black culture now didn’t come to fruition on its own. Many have come before to pave the way of showing the capabilities of their greatness. Whether those efforts were taken in front or behind the camera, black women are some of the largest unsung heroes in old Hollywood filmmaking. 

Hattie McDaniel

June 10, 1895 – October 26, 1952

Born in Wichita, Kansas Hattie McDaniel has always loved the art of performing. She was a singer-songwriter, comedian, and mostly known for her acting. Becoming the first African American woman to receive an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind, 1980. She had to deal with countless amounts of racism and racial segregation throughout her career. The situation became so dangerous that she couldn’t even attend the premiere of Gone with the Wind because it was presenting in a whites-only theater. However, that never broke her spirit or passion for performing and today we commend her for her legacy.

Dorothy Dandridge

November 9, 1922 - September 8, 1965

Born in Cleveland, Ohio Dorothy Dandridge was your early 1900’s beauty on screen. Being adored worldwide for her delicate features, she was the first black woman on the cover of Life magazine. Although she was privileged for a lighter complexion making her more palatable to the masses, she still had her fair share of racist interactions. Yet, her hard work paid off, for she was the first black actress nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. This was for her starring role in the 1954 film Carmen Jones. 

Safi Faye

November 22, 1943 - Present (76 y/o)

Born in Dakar, Senegal Safi Faye is a well-educated woman who graduated from the University of Paris. Even though she was not well known, she still wanted to share her love for the silver screen by directing movies. Integrating her passion of ethnology, the comparison, and analyses in the characteristics of different people. She combined both of her loves to create foreign Senegalese films filled with drama and self-discovery. She achieved the triumph of becoming the first Sub-Saharan African woman to direct a commercially distributed feature film, Kaddu Beykat, which was released in 1975.

Keke Palmer

August 26, 1993 – Present (27 y/o)

Born in Harvey, Illinois Lauren Keyana “Keke” Palmer has made a name for herself in the industry of film and television ever since she was a child. Yet she still struggled with being hidden behind her race and gender. One of her greatest achievements was making history as the first black Cinderella on Broadway back in 2014. Today she has recently become the first black woman to ever host the infamous VMA Award Show. 

The work involved in the entertainment industry is applicable to a very specific selection of people. They all hold a passion for self-expression and content creating to capture lives unlike their own. Involved in such a cut-throat environment like film/filmmaking, it is hard for the minority to get their fair share in the spotlight. The women and people of color that have made great strides to make their voices heard have created volume. Breaking down barriers and correcting misunderstood stereotypes. These are not the only women that have made pushing for more from this community and certainly aren’t the last when it comes to justice on the silver screen.