Hattie McDaniel was an actress and singer who was the first Black woman to receive an Academy Award for her role in Gone with the Wind.
She worked as a bathroom attendant at a club in Wisconsin where patrons discovered her musical talent and convinced the owner of the club to make an exception to his “white-only” rule and let her perform. After a year of singing there she moved to Los Angeles. She got a role on a small radio show and became the first Black woman to be broadcast over American radio.
McDaniel willingly took roles where she played a maid stating she’d “rather play a maid in a movie than be one in real life.” Throughout the 1930s she played a servant or cook role nearly 40 times. After World War II, many activist groups rallied to end the roles of racial stereotypes in Hollywood. Since McDaniel had been typecast in her career as a maid, her work in film slowly declined.
In 1947 she became the first Black woman to star in a weekly radio show aimed at a general audience. The Beulah Show later became a television show in which McDaniel starred in six segments before suffering from a heart attack.
While McDaniel’s approach to racially stereotypical roles in Hollywood was different than her peers, she still accomplished a lot of firsts for Black women in entertainment.
Episodes of Hattie McDaniel in The Beulah Show can be found in our Black History Month Film Collection on iWoman.tv!