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How Many Black Actors Have Won an Oscar?

Just How Many Black Actors Have Won an Oscar? The Number Is Disturbingly Low

Image Source: Getty / Lee Celano

The Oscars have been plagued by obvious race issues since they began in 1929, and things seemingly came to a head with the #OscarsSoWhite discussion a couple of years ago; the overwhelming lack of diversity in nominees in both 2015 and 2016 resulted in Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs taking bigger, more noticeable steps to double the number of diverse members in its voting body by 2020.

Nevertheless, a black actor (the incomparable Sidney Poitier) wasn't awarded until 1964, and it was only in 2002 that Halle Berry became the first black woman to win a best actress trophy. At this year's ceremony, Mahershala Ali and Viola Davis won for their supporting roles, adding to a pretty short list. So, just how many black actors have won Oscars over the years? Sixteen. A whopping sixteen distinguished, talented people in 89 years. Scroll through to see who they are and learn about the records they've broken.

1940, Hattie McDaniel

The Gone With the Wind star made history when she became the first African-American person to ever win an Oscar. The film's director, David O. Selznick, had to call in a special favor just to have McDaniel allowed into the building (the Ambassador Hotel, where the ceremony was held, did not allow black people), and instead of getting to sit with the rest of the cast and crew, she was escorted to a small table far away and against a wall, which is where she accepted her best supporting actress award.


1964, Sidney Poitier

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Thanks to his stellar performance in Lilies of the Field, Poitier became the first black male to win an Oscar in general but also the best actor award.

1983, Louis Gossett Jr.

He is the first black male to win the best supporting actor award for his role in An Officer and a Gentleman.

1990 and 2002, Denzel Washington

Image Source: Giphy / ABC
Washington took home the best supporting actor trophy for Glory, making him the second black actor to do so. When he won his best actor Oscar for Training Day in 2002, Washington shared a powerful moment of solidarity with Sidney Poitier, who was given a Academy Honorary Award at the ceremony. Washington is the most nominated black actor in Oscars history with seven acting nods since 1987.

1991, Whoopi Goldberg

The comedian won best supporting actress for her role as Oda Mae Brown in Ghost, and the award was presented to her by Denzel Washington. She had been nominated once before for The Color Purple in 1986, making her the first African-American female to earn two acting nominations.

1997, Cuba Gooding Jr.

Image Source: Giphy / ABC
Yes, before he hit the small screen in The People vs. O.J. Simpson, Gooding won the best supporting actor award for Jerry Maguire. He was only 29 at the time, making him the youngest African-American male actor to win an Academy Award.

2002, Halle Berry

Berry's win for Monster's Ball marked the second time a black woman took home an Oscar and the first time two black actors won in leading role categories in the same year (Denzel Washington also won for Training Day). She gave a heartfelt, emotional speech that is memorable for its earnest homage to the women who came before her. "This moment is so much bigger than me," Berry told the crowd through tears. "This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It's for the women that stand beside me, Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And it's for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened."

2005, Jamie Foxx

Foxx swept award season for his outstanding portrayal of Ray Charles in Ray, and his Oscar win added to the pile. He also became the first African-American actor to receive two acting nominations in the same year (he also scored a best supporting actor nod for Collateral).

2005, Morgan Freeman

After nabbing the best supporting actor award for Million Dollar Baby, Freeman became the oldest black actor to win an Oscar at 67 years old.

2007, Forest Whitaker

Whitaker beat out Leonardo DiCaprio and Will Smith when he won the best actor award for his role in The Last King of Scotland.

2007, Jennifer Hudson

Image Source: Giphy / ABC
Her performance in Dreamgirls nabbed Hudson a best supporting actress win at just 25 years old, making her the youngest African-American actor to win an Oscar. It also happened to be her first-ever movie role.

2010, Mo'Nique

The comedic actress surprised audiences with her very, very serious role in Precious, for which she won the best supporting actress award.

2012, Octavia Spencer

The actress, who is nominated this year for her role in Hidden Figures, won the best supporting actress award for The Help. The movie is the third to produce nominees for both best supporting and best actress (Viola Davis).

2014, Lupita Nyong'o

Image Source: Getty / Kevin Winter
For her role as Patsey in 12 Years a Slave, the Kenyan actress became the first black African to be nominated for an acting Oscar and win in any category. It also marked special significance for being Nyong'o's first major movie role.

2017, Mahershala Ali

Two years after #OscarsSoWhite made headlines, Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar thanks to his stellar performance in Moonlight. He is also the eighth black actor to win an Academy Award.

2017, Viola Davis

Image Source: Getty / Frazer Harrison
Viola Davis won the best supporting actress award for Fences, becoming only the seventh black woman to receive the honor. She is also the first black woman to be nominated for three Oscars.

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