Though tides are slowly and steadily changing, the historical lack of diversity at the Academy Awards has our attention. Despite owning killer roles, writing and directing inspiring stories, and crafting the sounds that compliment the action, Black talent has often gone unrecognized and underappreciated.
In the Academy’s 94-year history, only a small fraction Oscars have been given to Black actors and actresses, with even fewer awarded in writing and directing.
In recent years, big wins for Black Hollywood legends like Regina King and Spike Lee, and relative newcomers like Daniel Kaluuya has signified what may be a promising shift toward increased diversity in nominations.
From Hattie McDaniel to Regina King, here’s a look at the Black history that has been made at the Academy Awards.
This article was updated on March 28, 2022.
Davis is the first Black actress to score three Oscar nods. She won Best Supporting Actress for Fences.
Common and John Legend earned an Oscar for Best Original Song for “Glory” from the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic, Selma.
Lupita Nyong’o earned the Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role award for 12 Years a Slave at the 2014 Oscars. “No matter where you are from, your dreams are valid,” Nyong’o said in her moving acceptance speech.
McQueen made history as the first Black producer to win Best Motion Picture for Twelve Years A Slave.
Ridley became the second African-American to win in the Best Adapted Screenplay category for the movie 12 Years a Slave, adapted from the memoir Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
Octavia Spencer is the fifth Black actress to win in the Best Supporting Actress category for her role as Minnie Jackson in the film The Help. “I share this with everyone,” said an emotional Spencer during her acceptance speech.
T.J. Martin (middle) became the first African-American to win an Oscar for Best Documentary in 2012 for Undefeated, a documentary he co-directed about the Manassas Tigers football team of Memphis.
Williams was the first Black person to win Best Documentary Short Subject for the 2009 documentary “Music By Prudence.”
Comedienne Mo’Nique won the Best Supporting Actress category for her role as Mary Lee Johnston in the critically acclaimed film Precious. She dedicated her win to actress Hattie McDaniel, the first Black person ever to win an Oscar.
Screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher became the first African-American to win in the Best Adapted Screenplay category for the film Precious, adapted from the novel “Push” by Sapphire.
Hudson’s big-screen debut as Effie White in Dreamgirls earned her a Best Supporting Actress award. The Oscar win was the first for a Black actress in a musical film.
The trio made history in 2005 when they became the first rappers to win an Academy Award for the song “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from the movie Hustle & Flow.
Freeman won the Best Supporting Actor award for his role as Eddie “Scrap-Iron” Dupris in the boxing movie Million Dollar Baby. Sixty-seven at the time of his win, Freeman is the oldest Black actor to earn the award.
Foxx’s portrayal of R&B icon Ray Charles in the biopic Ray earned him a Best Actor award in 2005. The honor made him the first Black actor to win for a musical.
The seasoned actor is the only Black actor to boast two Academy Awards. His first win was for Best Supporting Actor in 1989 for Glory. His second was for Best Actor for his role as corrupt detective Alonzo Harris in the 2001 cop drama Training Day.
Berry continues to be the only Black actress to take home the Best Actress award for her role as Leticia Musgrove in the 2001 film Monster’s Ball.
As 29, Gooding Jr. became the youngest Black actor to win Best Supporting Actor, for his role as football player Rod Tidwell in Jerry Maguire.
The second Black actress to win the award, Goldberg won Best Supporting Actress for her role as Oda Mae Brown in the 1990 classic Ghost.
Williams is a two-time Oscar winner in the Best Sound category for Glory (1989) and Dances with Wolves (1990).
Burton became the first African-American person to win for Best Sound in 1988. He won again in 2006 for Dreamgirls.
Hancock was the first Black victor to take home an Oscar for Best Original Score for the American-French musical drama film “Round Midnight.”
Lionel Richie won an Oscar in 1985 for the song “Say You, Say Me” from the movie White Nights.
The one and only Prince was the first Black winner of Best Original Song Score (which is different from Best Original Score category) for Purple Rain; this category was retired afterwards.
The iconic musician won an Oscar for “I Just Called to Say I Love You” from the movie, The Woman in Red.
Cara won an Oscar for the song “What a Feeling” from the movie Flashdance, making her the first African-American woman to win a non-acting Academy Award. She shared the award with composer Giorgio Moroder and co-lyricist Keith Forsey.
Gossett Jr. was the first Black actor to win a Best Supporting Actor award, for his role as Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) opposite Richard Gere.
Hayes was the first Black winner for Best Original Song for—a tune that we still love today—”Shaft.” Notably, he was also the first Black winner for any award other than in the acting categories
Poitier was first Black actor to win a Best Actor award for his role as Horner Smith in the 1963 classic Lillies of the Field. Poitier also received a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award in 2002.
McDaniel was the first African-American to win an Oscar, and the first Black actress to win Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind (1939). Back then Best Supporting Actresses were awarded plaques, not statuettes.