Second only to the Super Bowl in audience size and revenue, the Oscars are more than a mere ceremony; they are a phenomenon. It is only recently that movements such as #OscarsSoWhite have raised awareness around the more complicated legacy of the Oscars and African American participation in film.
This timely book draws on American, African American, and film history to reflect on how the Oscars have recognized blacks from the award’s inception to the present. Starting in the 1920s, the chapters provides a thorough analysis and overview of black actors nominated for their Hollywood roles during each decade, with special attention paid to the winners—many of which occur in the latter decades. Historical patterns are analyzed to reveal racial trends and open up 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, particularly when it comes to the public participation of African Americans. In the meticulously-researched Black Oscars: From Mammy to Minny, What the Academy Awards Tell Us about African Americans, we see how the Oscars are an indispensable guide to understanding race in mainstream Hollywood.
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.
6/3/20: Out of the Past featured the book in “Black Film History: A Reading List.”
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.”
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.”