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Movies and the artists in front of and behind the camera have made a huge impact on society. Through them, audience members have learned about different people, places, perspectives and experiences. Unfortunately, Hollywood has not always been reflective of what society looked like. While strides have been made by the film industry to do better, there is still a long way to go. Still, there have been several Black women that have revolutionized the industry. Here are a few that have changed film and the world!

Hattie McDaniel

Change began all the way back in 1940 with Hattie McDaniel. McDaniel became the first African American woman to win an Oscar for her supporting role in “Gone with the Wind.” While this was a historic moment, there were several factors that marred the event. McDaniel’s Mammie was a stereotypical black slave role in “Gone with the Wind.” Unfortunately, these were some of the only roles available for Black women at the time. On top of that, the Academy still upheld racial laws and standards with McDaniel’s attendance at the ceremony. She sat at the back of the ballroom and was not allowed to sit with her white co-stars. Still, McDaniel’s performance transcended the stereotypes and society’s rules and helped her mark her place in history forever.

Dorothy Dandridge

McDaniel’s win helped make it possible for other Black actresses to be recognized for their work. But, it would be several years until a Black actress would be nominated in the Best Actress in a leading role category. Dorothy Dandridge became the first black woman to be nominated for the lead actress category for her role in 1954’s “Carmen Jones.” Dandridge would lose to Grace Kelly in “The Country Girl,” but, once again, it provided a gateway for other Black artists to be recognized for their work. Dandridge’s work in “Carmen Jones” also proved that Black actors could be in leading roles and that audience’s had an interest in Black stories.

Halle Berry

The steps made by McDaniel and Dandridge allowed for the success of Halle Berry. In 2002, Berry would become the first Black woman to win Best Actress in a Leading Role at the Oscars for her role in “Monster’s Ball.” During her emotional speech, Berry thanked Dandridge, who Berry played in a TV movie in 1999.

Ava DuVernay

While it seems like history has already been made, historic moments for Black women in Hollywood are still occurring. Ava DuVernay, a PR agent turned director, became the first Black female director nominated for a Golden Globe in 2014. She was nominated for her third film, “Selma,” which told the story of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery, Alabama voting rights marches. DuVernay has continued to produce work that reflects the Black experience on both the big and small screen with 2018’s “A Wrinkle in Time,” “13th,” and “When They See Us.”

Cicely Tyson

Unfortunately, we recently lost this acting legend, but she left behind over six decades of revolutionary work. Known for her roles, in Alex Hayley’s “Roots,” “The Help,” and “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” Tyson gave intricate, masterful performances that challenged the stereotypes that Hollywood placed on Black actresses. Tyson chose roles that were nuanced and challenged the racism and colorism that is still in Hollywood today. Tyson’s career changed Hollywood and opened more doors for Black actresses.

Caitlin Hunt

Ohio U '21

Caitlin Hunt is a fourth year journalism news and information student at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. On campus, Caitlin is involved with the Ohio Fellows, Cru, and is a Templeton Scholar. She has served as a TODAY Show intern and a NAJA fellow. In her free time, she takes in as much pop culture as she can! She is always watching tv shows and movies, listening to music and obsessing over the latest Broadway musical. Check out her monthly blog, Caitlin's Pop of Culture to see what she's watching!
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