It has been decades since anyone has seen Hattie McDaniel’s historic Oscar for best supporting actress. Now, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will replace it.
A new Oscar will go to Howard University’s Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts, the academy and the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures announced Tuesday. Howard, a historically Black university, is planning a ceremony for the replacement called “Hattie’s Come Home” for Sunday, complete with music and an excerpt of LaDarrion Williams’ “Boulevard of Bold Dreams,” a play inspired by McDaniel.
McDaniel died in 1952 and left her award to Howard, where it was on display in the school’s drama department until the late 1960s.
“When I was a student in the College of Fine Arts at Howard University, in what was then called the Department of Drama, I would often sit and gaze in wonder at the Academy Award that had been presented to Ms. Hattie McDaniel, which she had gifted to the College of Fine Arts,” Phylicia Rashad, dean of the college, said in a news release ahead of the event. Rashad attended Howard from 1966 to 1970, according to the school’s student newspaper, The Hilltop.
“I am overjoyed that this Academy Award is returning to what is now the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts at Howard University,” Rashad continued. “This immense piece of history will be back in the College of Fine Arts for our students to draw inspiration from. Ms. Hattie is coming home!”
There has been much speculation about what happened to McDaniel’s Oscar. Some believe it went missing during the racial upheaval of the Black power and civil rights protests of the 1960s and others believe it was intentionally stolen, NPR reported in 2009.
Denise Randle, who was tasked in 1972 with tracking Howard’s inventory of artifacts, said the truth may not be so scandalous, and the award was likely misplaced.
“I think it was someone who moved it to a safe place, and then didn’t tell anyone where they moved it and then since either retired or forgot about it,” she told NPR. “But in looking at the fine arts department would be the most logical place — we couldn’t find it.”
McDaniel made history as the first Black person to win a competitive Academy Award for acting. She won best supporting actress in 1940, at the 12th Academy Awards, for her role as Mammy in “Gone With the Wind.” Her Oscar was not a statuette; it was a plaque, which was customary for supporting actor wins at the time. On the plaque stood a small statuette set into a bronze plate.
The academy wouldn’t see another Black woman win an Oscar for acting for 51 years. Whoopi Goldberg won best supporting actress in 1991, at the 63rd Academy Awards, for her role as Oda Mae Brown in “Ghost.”
McDaniel shed tears as she accepted the Oscar in 1940, calling it one of the happiest moments of her life.
“It has made me feel very, very humble and I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything I may be able to do in the future,” she said then. “I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry.”