Hattie McDaniels was the first African American and obviously the first black woman to win an Academy Award. This followed her exceptional performance as “Mammy” in the 1939 movie Gone With the Wind. While there has been a lot of discussion regarding her role in the movie and the reasons behind her victory, it is evident that her achievement was significant not just to the black women but to the African American society back then. According to Jackson (1989), McDaniels maintained her dignity in the midst of racism as well as other adversities that existed in the American society in over 300 films that she took part in. It is not a surprise that most of these films did not give her the credit she deserved. During the peak of her career, racial segregation had taken centre stage, but this did not limit her ambitions of attaining the award. In reality, Hattie McDaniels went through what can be referred to ask double jeopardy. She was not only an African American, but also a woman. The period between the 1920s to 1950s saw a lot of discrimination towards women as well as the African Americans.
Being an African American during her time, meant that Hattie was not welcomed for roles she felt would be best for her, but rather roles the film makers felt she would do better in. The actor did not have much to say regarding her roles. The American society back then was characterized by racial segregation and discrimination which saw African Americans intimidated and oppressed. The American laws outlined that public places, schools, as well as public transportation systems such as buses and trains contain separate and different facilities for blacks and whites. As a matter of fact, the majority of hotels and restaurants did not allow black people into their premises. Shockingly, during the 12 Academy Awards, Hattie McDaniels was only allowed to enter the venue because she was a nominee since the hotel did not allow black people. Seating at a separate corner of the venue with her friend and her agent, she emerged winner from the tight competition.
In addition, Hattie faced challenges due to the fact that she was a woman. The rights of women in the American society during this era were not as it is today. Women were known to have the role of mothers and homemakers. Professionalism and generally the idea of going to work were not known during this era. According to Schaefer (2008) the American society did not recognize the rights of women in the early 20th century. As a matter of fact, it was until 1920 when women were allowed to vote in America. For McDaniels, such an environment posed a challenge as she tried to venture into a male-dominated industry.
Despite the changes and transformation in the American society, cases of racial discrimination are still common and very evident today. While the situation might not be as worse as it were, the African Americans still face challenges in different industries, including motion film and specifically Hollywood. If McDaniels was in the current situation, things might have been better for her considering the legal steps taken to not just protect the rights of the African Americans but also the rights of artists. According to Gerapetritis (2016) the African American society has relatively gone through extremely harsh circumstances in the 20th century than they are doing right now.
In regards to women rights, McDaniels would be faced with a relatively better circumstance today than it was during her times in Hollywood. Women in the society today have equal rights, and as a matter of fact, the recent push for gender equality seems to favour them. According to Breitenbach et al. (2001), gender equality has created more opportunities for women in the society today, and one can easily deduce that women are more favoured than men.