New Play Examines the Life and Legacy of Hattie McDaniel, the First Black Woman to Win an Oscar

by Xara Aziz
Courtesy: Encyclopædia Britannica

A Boston-based theater is being applauded for premiering a play highlighting Hattie McDaniel, the first Black woman to win an Oscar.

The Boulevard of Bold Dreams explores the life and legacy of McDaniel, who won Best Supporting Actress for her role as “Mammie” in Gone with the Wind and will premiere at the Greater Boston Stage Company.

Many are unaware that the actress was not welcome at the 12th Academy Awards ceremony and was told she could not sit with the other castmates during the show. She was also not invited to any after-parties. In the play, thespians portray the events that took place that evening in 1940.

The play’s director, Taavon Gamble, said the show focuses on the internal deliberation McDaniel may have had before she accepted the award.

“It’s that sense of pride of yes, I’m accomplishing something and it’s a historic event, but still feeling very separate from everyone else and not feeling equal,” Gamble told CBS News. “And I think that’s part of what the show kind of harks at and ask us questions about.”              

The play is set at the Ambassador Hotel, where the Academy Awards ceremony took place in 1940. At the time, the hotel had a strict “No Blacks” policy.

Samantha Jane Williams portrays McDaniel and said that the play “goes through her journey…in this space that she’s not at the time, not allowed to be in, and just her kind of struggling between ‘Should I go, shouldn’t I go?'”

Gamble says he hopes the play will provide watchers an inside glimpse into McDaniel’s trials and tribulations as it examines the fight she faced to break barriers in the entertainment industry.

“They don’t understand how she became the beacon that she ended up becoming for her rights, this leader that she became that was not wanted,” he said. “She didn’t choose that. She just wanted to be able to do what you love, and it kind of just happened.”

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