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Black American Firsts in Film and Theatre

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First Black President Of The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences
Boone Isaacs was elected¬†the first black president of ‚ÄúThe Academy‚ÄĚ in 2013 and re-elected in¬†August of 2015.

Denzel Washington is the only African-American to take home multiple acting Oscars, winning in 1990 for his supporting role as¬†Pvt. Trip in¬†Glory¬†and in 2002 for his lead role in¬†Training Day¬†‚ÄĒ a landmark night for Oscar diversity, with Halle Berry also winning the best actress prize for her work in¬†Monster's Ball.

In 1990, Washington beat out Danny Aiello (Do the Right Thing), Dan Aykroyd (Driving Miss Daisy), Marlon Brando (A Dry White Season) and Martin Landau (Crimes and Misdemeanors). Accepting his award from Geena Davis at the Oscars' longtime home of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Washington seemed relieved he was able to use the notes he'd prepared and that his son, who said he was going to make him an Oscar out of clay, now has the real thing to work off of.

"Now I got the model for him," Washington said. He also paid tribute to the black Civil War soldiers that the film portrays, saying they "helped make this country free."


Willie D. Burton became first black person to win best sound in 1989. In 2007, he won again, for best sound mixing. He won his first Oscar, after receiving his fourth nomination, for his work on Bird, alongside Les Fresholtz, Dick Alexander and Vern Poore. The Bird sound team beat those who worked on the sound for Die Hard, Gorillas in the Mist, Mississippi Burning and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
The first black winner for best original score,¬†Herbie¬†Hancock, won for his work on¬†'Round Midnight. He beat the scores for¬†Aliens¬†(James Horner),¬†Hoosiers¬†(Jerry Goldsmith),¬†The Mission¬†(Ennio¬†Morricone) and Leonard¬†Rosenman¬†(Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home). Accepting the award from Bette¬†Midler, Hancock indicated that perhaps preparing a speech ahead of time, as he was asked to do, but hadn't done before, was good luck. And he paid tribute to the jazz greats that paved the way for him. "In accepting this award I salute the same unsung heroes that you so boldly have chosen to applaud," he said. "Some are with us today and some are not. Many have suffered and even died for this music, this greatest of all expression of the creative spirit of humankind‚ÄĒjazz. From their suffering and pain we can learn that life is the subject, the story that music so eloquently speaks of, and it is not the other way around. We as individuals must develop our lives to the fullest, to strengthen and deepen the story that others can be inspired by life's song‚ĶPraise has been long overdue for Bud Powell, Lester Young,¬†Thelonious¬†Monk, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday and many, many others. Along with you, I thank them. Along with them, I thank you."

Lionel Richie called his best original song win for "Say You, Say Me" from White Nights, "Outrageous." The song beat "Miss Celie's Blues (Sister)" from The Color Purple, which Richie also helped write; "The Power of Love" from Back to the Future; "Surprise, Surprise" from A Chorus Line and another White Nights song, "Separate Lives," the "love theme" from the movie.

"In the truest sense of the word I will say to you that this represents a dream come true," Richie said after winning. "Many, many years of believing and dreaming and a lot of friends and a lot of family that said, 'You can do it, just keep on trying hard.' I want to say to all of them and to all the people that have supported me over the years, thank you very much for keeping up with my foolishness."

Stevie Wonder won best original song for "I Just Called To Say I Love You" from¬†The Woman in Red, beating out Phil Collins' "Against All Odds" from the film of the same name, Ray Parker¬†Jr's¬†"Ghostbusters," from the film of the same name and two¬†Footloose¬†songs, the title track and "Let's Hear It For The Boy." Wonder seemed in disbelief as he accepted the award, recalling how the moment was a real manifestation of his dreams. "All through Europe I had dreams‚ÄĒand I would always wake up‚ÄĒthat I was at an awards show and the nominees were coming up, and they'd say this song and this song, and the winner is...! And I would wake up," Wonder said. "But I never thought that this would happen."

What a feeling, indeed! Irene Cara won the best original song Oscar for "Flashdance…What a Feeling" from Flashdance, sharing the award with Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey. The composition beat out fellow Flashdance track "Maniac," "Over You" from Tender Mercies and two songs from Yentl, "Papa, Can You Hear Me?" and "The Way He Makes Me Feel."
In 2015, Uzo Aduba was the first black actress, and only actor besides¬†Ed Asner,¬†to win an Emmy in both the comedy and drama categories for a single role for her performance on ‚ÄúOrange Is The New Black.‚ÄĚ
Golden Globe Nomination For Best Director
DuVernay¬†was the¬†first black director¬†to receive¬†a Golden Globe nomination for Best Director for the 2014 film ‚ÄúSelma,‚ÄĚ about Martin Luther King‚Äôs historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.


Russell Williams is the first black person to win multiple Oscars in any category. Williams took home back-to-back best sound Oscars as part of the teams that worked on Glory and Dances With Wolves. In 1990, Williams, Donald O. Mitchell, Gregg C. Rudloff and Elliot Tyson beat the sound teams from The Abyss, Black Rain, Born on the Fourth of July and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
In 1991, Williams, Jeffrey Perkins, Bill W. Benton and Greg Watkins beat the sound teams from Days of Thunder, Dick Tracy, The Hunt for Red October and Total Recall.
Director T.J. Miller became the first black documentary feature winner for his film¬†Undefeated, sharing the award with Dan Lindsay and Rich¬†Middlemas.¬†Undefeated¬†beat fellow documentary nominees¬†Hell and Back Again, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory¬†and¬†Pina. Miller dropped an f-bomb during his speech, that he quickly apologized for, as he acknowledged the other nominees in the category, which he said, "have inspired us in so many ways" and it would be "f‚ÄĒing¬†wonderful" if they all joined them onstage.
In 2010,¬†Geoffrey Fletcher¬†was the first black writer to win an Academy Award¬†for Best Adapted Screenplay for ‚ÄúPrecious,‚ÄĚ based on the novel ‚ÄúPush‚ÄĚ by Sapphire. Four years later,¬†John Ridley¬†became the second black writer to receive this award for his adaptation of ‚Äú12 Years A Slave‚ÄĚ by Solomon Northup.
Disney’s Princess Tiana
Anika Noni Rose is the proud voice behind Princess Tiana who is¬†the first, and thus far only, black member of the¬†highly successful¬†Disney Princess franchise. Rose‚Äôs landmark performance in ‚ÄúThe Princess and the Frog‚ÄĚ was an important representation of¬†a black woman in a lead role in an iconic children‚Äôs movie.
¬†At the age of 24 in 1992, John Singleton became the¬†youngest person and first black director¬†to be nominated for¬†an Oscar for Best Director for ‚ÄúBoyz N¬†The Hood.‚ÄĚ There has¬†never¬†been a¬†black director to receive an Academy award in this category, and thus far only two other people have been nominated:¬†Lee Daniels in 2009 for ‚ÄúPrecious‚Äú and Steve McQueen in 2013 for ‚Äú12 Years a Slave.‚ÄĚ
Daytime Television Host
In 1986 Oprah pioneered the field of daytime television when she became the first black woman to have her own talk show. In 1998 she won the Daytime Emmy’s Lifetime Achievement award for her extensive contributions to the field of media. 

Prince took home an Oscar¬†for Best Original Score, an award that requires¬†writing five songs or more for a film,¬†at the 57th Academy Awards in 1985 for the movie¬†‚ÄúPurple Rain.‚ÄĚ
1983, Academy Award For Best Actor In A Supporting Role
¬†Gossett received the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor Award for his acting talents in ‚ÄúOfficer and a Gentleman,‚ÄĚ which made him the first black actor to do so.¬†He‚Äôs spoken about the lack of acting opportunities he‚Äôs had as a black actor even after his historic win. In 2013 he told¬†The Root, ‚ÄúI never got a million dollars for any movie I did in 60 years.‚ÄĚ Since his win¬†there have been three other black actors to win an Oscar in this category, Denzel Washington in 1990 for¬†Glory,¬†Cuba Gooding Jr.¬†in 1997 for¬†Jerry Maguire, and Morgan Freeman in 2005 for¬†Million Dollar Baby.
 1981, Emmy For Outstanding Lead Actress In a Comedy Series
Sanford‚Äôs iconic performance as Louise ‚ÄúWeezy‚ÄĚ Jefferson on the ‚ÄúJeffersons‚ÄĚ made her the first, and so far only, black woman to win an Emmy in¬†this category. Out of 253 total nominations for this award,¬†only three other black actresses¬†have ever been nominated:¬†Diahann Carroll, Nell Carter, and Phylicia Rashad‚ÄĒthe last being in 1986.
Roger Ross Williams became the first black director to win the Oscar for best documentary short subject for Music by Prudence, sharing the award with Elinor Burkett. Music by Prudence beat China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province, The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner, The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant and Rabbit a la Berlin.

With their best adapted screenplay win, Moonlight writers Barry Jenkins (screenplay) and Tarell Alvin McCraney (story) joined a short list of African-American winners in the category, including Geoffrey Fletcher (Precious) and John Ridley (12 Years a Slave). Moonlight's script beat adapted screenplays from Arrival, Fences, Hidden Figures and Lion. Addressing the Oscars' large audience around the world, Jenkins said, "All you people out there who feel like there's no mirror out there, that your life is not reflected, the Academy has your back. The ACLU has your back. We have your back and for the next four years we will not leave you alone, we will not forget you."

McCraney added, "This goes out to all of those black and brown boys and girls and non-gender-conforming [people] who don't see themselves. We're trying to show them you and us. ... This is for you." Moonlight would go on to win best picture but the top prize went to producers Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner.

The "untraditional," seven-and-a-half-hour documentary¬†O.J.: Made in America¬†capped off its impressive awards-season run by¬†taking home the Oscar for best documentary feature. Accepting the award alongside producer Caroline¬†Waterlow, producer and director Ezra¬†Edelman, whose mother is African-American, dedicated the award to Simpson's ex-wife Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, whom Simpson was accused (and later acquitted) of murdering. "This is for them and their families," he said. "It is also for others ‚ÄĒ the victims of police violence, police brutality, racially motivated violence and criminal injustice. This is their story, as well as Ron and Nicole's. I'm honored to accept this award on all of their behalves." In addition to looking back at the "trial of the century,"¬†Made in America¬†takes a comprehensive look at Simpson's rise and fall through the intersection of race and celebrity.
The Moonlight actor won for his supporting role in the coming-of-age drama as the first of three awards received by the film that night. Ali, who won the Oscar on his first nomination, beat Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea), Dev Patel (Lion) and Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals). Accepting from the 2016 best supporting actress winner Alicia Vikander, Ali thanked those who taught him that "it's not about you, it's about these characters. You're in service to these stories and these characters. I'm so blessed to have had this opportunity." Backstage, he said he was honored to win as a Muslim actor.  "Regardless of one’s theology, as an artist my job is the same - to connect with these characters as deeply as possible," he said. "I’m just an artist who feels blessed to have the opportunities I have had."

During the first year of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, African-American musicians Common and John Legend took home the best original song Oscar for "Glory" from Selma. "Glory" beat "Everything is Awesome" from The Lego Movie, "Grateful" from Beyond the Lights, "I'm Not Gonna Miss You" from Glen Campbell…I'll Be Me and "Lost Stars" from Begin Again. During their speech, Common recalled how the pair had recently performed the song on the same bridge that Martin Luther King and civil-rights activists marched on 50 years ago and talked about the enduring symbolism of that structure.

Legend, meanwhile, brought the themes of the film into the present day. "Nina Simone said it's an artist's duty to reflect the times in which we live. We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say that Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now," he said. "We know that the Voting Rights Act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850. When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you we are with you, we see you, we love you, and march on. God bless you."

Twelve Years a Slave screenwriter John Ridley won one of the film's three awards at the 2014 Oscars, taking home the best adapted screenplay prize for transforming Solomon Northup's story into the acclaimed film. Ridley's work beat the adapted screenplays from Before Midnight, Captain Phillips, Philomena and The Wolf of Wall Street.
Nyong'o won one of 12 Years a Slave's three Oscars in 2014, taking home the best supporting actress prize for her role as Patsey. Nyong'o beat Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle), Julia Roberts (August: Osage County) and June Squibb (Nebraska). She began by thanking her character and the real Solomon Northup. "It doesn't escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else's," she said. "And so I want to salute the spirit of "Patsey" for her guidance. And for Solomon, thank you for telling her story and your own." And she ended her speech with a message, "When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you're from your dreams are valid."

Twelve Years a Slave director Steve McQueen may have lost the best director award to Gravity's Alfonso Cuaron but he became the first black producer to win best picture when his film won the Oscars' top prize. The film emerged victorious from a packed best picture category that featured American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena and The Wolf of Wall Street.

McQueen joined fellow producers Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner and Anthony Katagas in accepting the award, with Pitt quickly turning the microphone over to the director. In his speech, McQueen brought the message of the film's real-life protagonist, Solomon Northup, to the present day, saying "Everyone deserves not just to survive but to live. This is the most important legacy of Solomon Northup. I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery and the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today."

Spencer called her Oscar "the hottest guy in the room" after she accepted the statuette from Christian Bale at the 2012 ceremony. Winning best supporting actress for her role as Minny Jackson in The Help, Spencer beat out Berenice Bejo (The Artist), Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids), Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs) and her Help co-star Jessica Chastain. She thanked those involved with making the movie, including then-DreamWorks executives Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider for "changing my life."

BET

 First Black Owned TV Network
In 1979 Robert L. Johnson started Black Entertainment Television (BET), the first black owned TV network and media empire. Although Viacom bought BET, in 2000 for more than $2 billion, Johnson still remained as chairman and chief executive of BET until 2005 when he gave the position to Debra Lee.
The Precious actress beat out Penelope Cruz (Nine), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart) and two Up in the Air actresses, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick, when she won best supporting actress, accepting the trophy from presenter Robin Williams. During her speech, Mo'Nique paid tribute to McDaniel, thanking her "for enduring all that she had to so that I would not have to."

At just 25, former American Idol contestant Jennifer Hudson won the best supporting actress Oscar for her debut film role as Effie White in Dreamgirls. Hudson beat out Cate Blanchett (Notes on a Scandal), Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) and two Babel castmembers, Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi. Hudson also seemed overwhelmed by the honor, remarking after she accepted the statuette from presenter George Clooney, "I cannot believe this. Look what God can do…I didn't think I was going to win but, wow."

Hudson also paid tribute to her grandmother, wishing she had been there to see her win and saying, "She was my biggest inspiration for everything because she was a singer, and she had the passion for it but she never had the chance, and that was the thing that pushed me forward to continue." The grateful star thanked director Bill Condon and the film's cast as well as her Broadway predecessor Jennifer Holliday.

Whitaker won the best actor prize in 2007 for his role as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, beating Leonardo DiCaprio (Blood Diamond), Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson), Peter O'Toole (Venus) and Will Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness). Accepting his award from Reese Witherspoon, Whitaker seemed overwhelmed by the moment and how far he'd come.

He took a few seconds to compose himself before talking about how his win was a dream come true.

"When I was a kid, the only way that I saw movies was from the backseat of my family's car at the drive-in, and it wasn't my reality to think I would be acting in movies," Whitaker said. "So receiving this honor tonight tells me that it's possible, it is possible for a kid from east Texas, raised in South Central L.A., in Carson, who believes in his dreams, commits himself to them with his heart, to touch them and to have them happen. Because when I first started acting, it was because of my desire to connect to everyone, to that thing inside each of us, that light that I believe exists in all of us. Because acting for me is about believing in that connection; and it's a connection so strong, it's a connection so deep that we feel it and through our combined belief we can create a new reality."

He ended by thanking God, saying that He's "given me this moment in this lifetime that I will hopefully carry to the end of my lifetime into the next lifetime."

Three 6 Mafia had the Oscar audience abuzz when the rappers won the best original song award for their Hustle & Flow composition "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp." The trio of Jordan "Juicy J" Houston, Cedric "Frayser Boy" Coleman and Paul "DJ Paul" Beauregard beat "In The Deep" from Crash and "Travelin' Thru" from Transamerica.

Speaking to¬†THR, DJ Paul revealed the rappers were certain they wouldn't win even though they eagerly attended and performed on the Oscars. "My lawyer wrote out a piece of paper with the names of all the people we were supposed to thank if we won: Craig Brewer, the director. John Singleton, the producer. Sony Records. This person, that person," DJ Paul recalled. "We balled it up and threw it away. We were like, 'Man, we don't need this paper. We're not going to win. F‚ÄĒ that paper!'"

But the boys from Memphis, Tenn. did win. "We went crazy. We turned around and started running and jumping." After they accepted the award from Queen Latifah, the band members, accompanied by Hustle & Flow actress Taraji P. Henson in her pre-Empire days, improvised an acceptance speech that included shout-outs to Memphis, Sony Records, their family members, the Academy and George Clooney, whom Paul called "my favorite man, he showed me love when I first met him."

"Why Clooney? Because when you go to the Oscar luncheon, you can't sit with the people you come with. They split us all up, and I ended up sitting with Clooney. I was a huge fan. I got all these tattoos because of him in From Dusk Till Dawn," Paul told THR.

Morgan Freeman won his first Oscar after receiving his fourth nomination. The veteran actor won the best supporting actor prize for his role as Eddie "Scrap-Iron" Dupris in Million Dollar Baby, beating out Alan Alda (The Aviator), Thomas Haden Church (Sideways), Jamie Foxx (Collateral) and Clive Owen (Closer). Accepting the statuette from Renee Zellweger, Freeman thanked "everybody and anybody who ever had anything at all to do with the making of this picture," including director Clint Eastwood and co-star Hilary Swank. "This was a labor of love," Freeman added.

Jamie Foxx was singing a happy tune after he won the best actor Oscar for his role as Ray Charles in Ray. The winner performed a little Ray Charles with the audience after he beat out Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda), Johnny Depp (Finding Neverland), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Aviator) and Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby). Foxx name-checked Winfrey and Berry and, like Washington before him, invoked Poitier, whom he said Winfrey allowed him to meet. Mimicking Poitier's voice, Foxx recalled him saying, "I saw you once. And I looked in your eyes and there was a connection … I give to you responsibility."

As himself, Foxx continued: "So I'm taking that responsibility tonight. And thank you, Sidney." He also paid tribute to his late grandmother, whom he called his "first acting teacher."

"She still talks to me now; only now she talks to me in my dreams," Foxx said. "And I can't wait to go to sleep tonight because we got a lot to talk about."           
The Jerry Maguire star, who won for his role as Rod Tidwell, delivered an enthusiastic acceptance speech after he won the best supporting actor Oscar. Gooding beat out William H. Macy (Fargo), Armin Mueller Stahl (Shine), Edward Norton (Primal Fear) and James Woods (Ghosts of Mississippi) for the prize and quickly thanked several people, including his wife, Cameron Crowe, Tom Cruise, James L. Brooks, Regina King and "Everybody involved with the movie!" Gooding proclaimed "I love you!" several times and jumped around onstage towards the end of his speech.

First Black Film Director

Oscar Micheaux became the first Black American to produce a full-length feature film when The Homesteader premiered at movie houses in 1919.

The following year, Micheaux released Within Our Gates, a response to D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. 

For the next 30 years, Micheaux produced and directed films that challenged Jim Crow Era society.

Donald Glover also became the first Black men to win for directing a comedy series.
At the 69th Emmy Awards on Sunday, writer, producer and actress Lena Waithe became the first Black woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing. Waithe, who plays Denise in the Netflix series, ‚ÄėMaster Of None‚Äô, won for penning the series‚Äô acclaimed coming-out episode ‚ÄúThanksgiving.‚ÄĚ
 First Individual Black Host Of The Oscars
Whoopi Goldberg came to stardom in 1985 in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple, for which she was nominated for Best Actress Oscar. She won the Best Supporting Actress award for her performance as the funny Oda Mae Brown in Ghost (1990).
 While Whoopi Goldberg may spend her current days hosting The View, the talented actress has much more to add to her résumé than that. Acting in over 150 films, Goldberg became the first African-American (and only to date) to have won an Emmy (2002), Grammy (1985), Oscar (1990), and Tony Award (2002) (EGOT). Only 12 people total have been able to accomplish this, with the latest achievement being listed in 2014.
 The Oscars are as much about the host as they are about the awards. In the Academy Awards’ 87 year history there have been 75 celebrity hosts, but only five have been black. Whoopi Goldberg would be the first black person to host the awards without a co-host in 1994, and Chris Rock the second in 2005. Other black celebrities that co-hosted in the past include Sammy Davis Jr. in 1972, Diana Ross in 1974, and Richard Pryor in 1977.

First to Win an Honorary Academy Award
Actor James Baskett received an Honorary Academy Award in 1948 for his depiction of Uncle Remus in the Disney film,¬†Song of the South¬†(1946). Baskett is best known for this role, singing the song,¬†"Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.‚ÄĚ

Starring as Alexander ‚ÄúScotty‚ÄĚ Scott, Bill Cosby made history as the first Black actor to have a leading role in a television series with ‚ÄėI Spy‚Äô. The one-hour drama adventure series, which was Cosby‚Äôs first television role, ran for three seasons on NBC and earned him three Primetime Emmy Awards from 1966 to 1968.
Though controversial, Cicely Tyson‚Äôs role on the CBS drama ‚ÄėEast Side/West Side‚Äô has become historic. Starring as secretary Jane Foster, the celebrated actress appeared in 22 out of the 26 episodes of the show.
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