The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will be holding their 88th annual awards show this year, and so far, much of the conversation has not revolved around the films themselves, but rather the lack of diversity among nominees, as chronicled by the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. Certainly, the Academy still has a long way to go before the nominations and awards handed out reflect the racial, gender, age, and sexual diversity of our multifaceted world. Some of the blame should fall on Hollywood for failing to bring this diversity to the screen; a portion is also shared by audiences who don’t shell out their dollars to support the underrepresented.
But in the 88 years of the Oscars, there have also been quite a few historic “Firsts” that broke social barriers well before the government or society at large could claim to do the same. It was the Academy that awarded Hattie McDaniel, the daughter of slaves, an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for 1939’s Gone with the Wind. McDaniel was the first African-American to attend the Awards as a guest and nominee – not a servant – in the still-segregated L.A. night club, the Ambassador’s Cocoanut Grove, full decades before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A more recent look at Oscars success stories include multiple Firsts for 2013’s 12 Years a Slave and another for 2014’s Gravity. Let’s revisit some of the winner’s speeches for the following historic Oscars Firsts, which we can still celebrate today: