Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

March 18, 1939

On March 18, 1939, the New York Amsterdam News ran a profile of actress Hattie McDaniel, who had recently signed to play the role of “Mammy” in Gone With the Wind. “Hattie’s grandmother lived and worked on such plantations as the Tara described in Margaret Mitchell’s best-seller novel of the Civil War South,” the article said. “She might well have been of the kindly, fiercely possessive type whose loyalty to her white mistress never wavered. She would be proud, were she alive today, to see her grand-daughter become the servant of ‘quality folks’ on the motion picture screen.” The article went on to describe McDaniel as the best known “sepia actress” and that “her round, beaming face, her 290 pound bulk, her expressive eyes, not to mention her versatile talent keep her in demand at all times. She averages 16 pictures a year” (click to view PDF).

In his review of Gone With the WindAmsterdam News editor Dan Burley saw McDaniel’s performance as the film’s only redeeming feature. “Sugar-coated in technicolored brilliance and making the most of its running time of three hours, 37 minutes to ram home its anti-Negro propaganda, Margaret Mitchell’s widely discussed ‘Gone With the Wind’ now lives on the silver screen,” Burley began. ”To this reviewer [the film] represents the pus oozing from beneath the scab of a badly healed wound and aggravated by the subtlety of its presentation by the master directors and technicians of Hollywood.” In contrast to these criticisms, Burley wrote that “buxom Hattie McDaniel as Mammy performs most brilliantly and convincingly and ‘steals’ with consummate ease nearly every scene she is shown in” (click to view PDF).

Hattie McDaniel earned the Academy Award for best supporting actress, making her the first African American to win an Oscar.

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