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Diversity conquers: The greatest wins in Oscar history

Every now and then actors, directors, producers, writers, and editors manage to break through diversity barriers and score a monumental win. With Oscar season currently upon us and speculation rife as to who will win, it’s time to look back at some of the biggest diversity milestones in Academy Awards history.

Diversity conquers: The greatest wins in Oscar history

The Academy Awards have run into numerous diversity-related controversies over the years, the most recent being #OscarsSoWhite, in which anti-whiteout protesters slammed the absence of nominations for actors of color.

Hollywood and the Academy are often accused of being something of an old boys’ club, which perhaps contributed to the breakout of the aforementioned controversy. Many have questioned the decision-making process since the breakout of a study showing the Oscars voter demographic was 94% white and 77% male, with a median age of 62.

However, every now and then actors, directors, producers, writers, and editors manage to break through those barriers and score a monumental win. With Oscar season currently upon us and speculation rife as to who will win, it’s time to look back at some of the biggest diversity milestones in Academy Awards history.

Frances Marion (1930)

Best Writing Adapted Screenplay

Frances Marion

Though several women had been nominated in the category, Marion was the first to win for the gritty screenplay of male prison drama The Big House. A year later she’d win the Best Story Oscar for The Champ.

Anne Bauchens (1940)

Best Film Editing

Anne Bauchens

Bauchens was the first woman to be nominated for editing thanks to her work on Cleopatra in 1934, and she became the first female winner in the same category for her work on Cecil B. DeMille’s North West Mounted Police.

Hattie McDaniel (1940)

Best Supporting Actress

Hattie McDaniel

McDaniel wasn’t just the first black woman to win Best Supporting Actress – she was also the first African American to ever win an Oscar. The trailblazing performer won for her role as Mammy in Gone With The Wind.

Sidney Poitier (1963)

Best Actor

Sidney Poitier

For his standout performance as Horner Smith in Lilies of the Field, the iconic actor was the first African-American to be recognized with the Best Actor award.

Isaac Hayes (1972)

Best Original Song

Isaac Hayes

I think we can all agree, “Shaft” remains one of the finest movie songs of all time. Thankfully Hayes was recognized for his genius in writing the song, making him the first black winner of the award in this category. His win also made him the first black winner of any Oscar outside of the acting categories.

Louis Gossett Jr. (1982)

Best Supporting Actor

Louis Gossett Jr.

For his role as Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley in An Officer and a Gentleman, Gossett Jr. was the first black man to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Rob Epstein and Richard Schmiechen (1984)

Best Documentary Feature

'The Times of Harvey Milk'

A groundbreaking win for the LGBTQI community, Epstein and Schmiechen were the first openly gay filmmakers to win an Oscar for a gay-themed film with The Times of Harvey Milk.

Halle Berry (2001)

Best Actress

Halle Berry

Berry won the Best Actress Oscar for her role as Leticia Musgrove in Monster’s Ball. In 2017, Berry lamented to Teen Vogue how the Oscar win “meant nothing” because of the lack of subsequent opportunity awarded to black actors overall.

Geoffrey Fletcher (2009)

Best Adapted Screenplay

Geoffrey Fletcher

Fletcher earned his Oscar win for adapting a screenplay from Sapphire’s novel Push into Lee DanielsPrecious, making him the first African-American to win in the category.

Kathryn Bigelow (2010)

Best Director

Kathryn Bigelow

Bigelow made history as the first woman to ever win the Best Director award for her outstanding work on The Hurt Locker. It took 82 Academy Award shows to reach this point.

Steve McQueen (2013)

Best Motion Picture

Steve McQueen

When 12 Years a Slave won the Oscar for Best Motion Picture, McQueen became the first black producer honored in this category.

Mahershala Ali (2017)

Best Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali

Ali became the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar for his performance in Moonlight. The win happened at a time when Donald Trump’s proposed Muslim ban was the topic of heated debate.

Moonlight (2017)

Best Motion Picture

'Moonlight'

Barry Jenkins’ stunning drama became the first LGBTQI movie to win Best Motion Picture – a moment made all the more memorable by the embarrassing on-stage snafu made by the Academy, in which La La Land was mistakenly awarded the accolade first.

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Amy Roberts is a freelance writer who occasionally moonlights as a hapless punk musician. She’s written about pop culture for websites like Bustle, i-D, and The Mary Sue, and is the co-creator of Clarissa Explains F*ck All. She likes watching horror movies with her cat and eating too much sugar.

amy@filmdaily.co