Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, fellow members of the motion picture industry and honoured guests: This is one of the happiest moments of my life, and I want to thank each one of you who had a part in selecting me for one of their awards, for your kindness. It has made me feel very, very humble; and I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything that I may be able to do in the future. I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry. My heart is too full to tell you just how I feel, and may I say thank you and God bless you."
Hattie McDaniel's Acceptance Speech delivered on February 29, 1940 at the 12th Annual Academy Awards.
Gone With the Wind, released in 1939, was the featured movie for two weeks (Tuesday, June 24th and Monday, June 30th) at the Yonge-Dundas Square. Hattie McDaniel, who won the Oscar in 1940 for Best Supporting Actress for her role of Mammy in Gone with the Wind, was the first African American to win an Academy Award. The Mammy character was one of the myths that white slaveholding Southerners used to rationalize their continued enslavement of Africans. It is not surprising that the first African American “honored” with an Oscar was someone who brought to life, in living colour, a stereotype of Africans which had been used to salve the conscience of white America during slavery. Mammy was the epitome of the contented, happy enslaved African woman. She grinned and laughed incessantly, loved the white people who owned her more than she loved herself or any family she was allowed to have. She was fat and desexed so offered no threat to the comfort of the white woman, unlike the Jezebel character. The Mammy and Jezebel myths are two sides of the same coin. The Jezebel myth of the promiscuous, oversexed creature that tempted the good white Christian men was created to justify the rape of enslaved African women. Mammy was proof that there were good enslaved African women who caused no problems for their white owners, were happy with their lot and slavery was the best life for Africans if they knew how to behave. It was safe for Mammy to live in the plantation house because no white man would lust after her. The movie Gone With the Wind, reinforced for white America that slavery was not so bad for Africans, some of them, the decent ones, were happy, contented, loved the white people who kept them in bondage and did not want to be free.
In the novel Gone with the Wind, published in 1936, Margaret Mitchell writes: “Scarlett heard Mammy's lumbering tread shaking the floor of the hall … Mammy emerged from the hall, a huge old woman with the small, shrewd eyes of an elephant. She was shining black, pure African, devoted to her last drop of blood to the O'Haras.” Mitchell’s novel Gone with the Wind, is rife with white supremacist myths which historians have debunked. African American historian Deborah Gray White in her 1987 book Ar’n’t I a Woman?,” has written that the Mammy image was constructed as pro-slavery propaganda where the image of Mammy’s large desexualized body was used to counteract the reality that white slave holders were sexually attracted to the bodies of enslaved African women. In The Plantation Mistress: Woman's World in the Old South published in 1982, Catherine Clinton, a white historian acknowledges: The Mammy was created by white Southerners to redeem the relationship between black women and white men within slave society in response to the antislavery attack from the North during the ante-bellum period. In the primary records from before the Civil War, hard evidence for its existence simply does not appear. One of my sheroes, bell hooks, the foremost African American critical thinker has addressed the Mammy myth. She wrote in “Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism,” published in 1981; The mammy image was portrayed with affection by whites because it epitomized the ultimate sexist-racist vision of ideal black womanhood--complete submission to the will of whites. In a sense whites created in the mammy figure a black woman who embodied solely those characteristics they as colonizers wished to exploit. They saw her as the embodiment of woman as passive nurturer, a mother figure who gave all without expectation of return, who not only acknowledged her inferiority to whites but who loved them.
In Mitchell’s novel which is the basis of the movie, Mammy was the gatekeeper. The modern day Mammy figures are not necessarily fat and old. There are many of them who are considered successful in their jobs. In their role as Mammy, they are ready to chastise or use nefarious means to silence those “uppity negroes” who dare challenge the white folks. The modern day Mammy, like her male counterpart, Uncle Tom (named after the mythical character from Uncle Tom’s Cabin), is not a myth. She is indeed the gatekeeper who grins and laughs incessantly to make white people feel comfortable. She is the loyal, ultimate colonized mind, not involved with her community but used by her masters as a spokesperson for her community. It is essential to her survival that she is never perceived as “the angry black woman.” Her role is also to sound the alarm, “the Negroes are restless, they are tying to take over, what is we gwine do Massa?”
In 1939 and 1940, the African American press and civil rights organizations protested the making of the movie Gone With the Wind. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the most influential African American publications protested and organized boycotts of the movie. African American journalist Benjamin J. Davis wrote a review titled “Gone With the Wind–an Insidious Glorification of the Slave Market.” William L. Patterson, in an article published in the Chicago Defender (an African American newspaper) on January 6th, 1940 wrote; “Gone With the Wind” has made the Negro man a grotesque and ravishing beast. It has made Negro womanhood a wanton wench ready to accept the advances of any man. Trinidad born Pan Africanist George Padmore, also writing for the Chicago Defender wrote an article about African American boycott of the film on February 3, 1940. In “multicultural” Toronto, in 2008, the authorities responsible for choosing the movies shown at Yonge-Dundas Square saw fit to screen Gone With the Wind, with its white supremacist story line that among other things, glorified the Ku Klux Klan and portrayed some of the most virulent stereotypes of Africans.
Written in July 2008