Dear Ms. McDaniel,
It's been 76 years since you won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Gone With the Wind. Wow, it seems so long ago, yet on the clock of history, it happened just yesterday. Both my parent's were less than a year old, when you ascended the stage with grace and dignity from an isolated table at the far corner of the nightclub at the segregated Ambassador Hotel. You managed to win an award despite America's hostility and regressive behavior towards people of color. That speaks volumes considering none of the Academy voters were black.
Yeah, I know, you're probably wondering why I'm writing this letter 64 years after you left us for the heavens. It's just that a lot has happened in America since your passing. A nasty debate has ensued that reflects back on the legacy you left behind. But first, let me share some of the monumental changes that have occurred since you went home.
Much of American society is desegregated and we have full voting rights now, but as you might imagine, we still have pockets of society resistant to this newer reality, but that probably comes as no surprise.
We have an African American president now. How cool is that? And just to let you know, he's done an amazing job despite strong resistance from an opposing party hell-bent on destroying his many accomplishments using coded racial language as a tool. It's a language more reminiscent of the blunt racist attitudes of 1940.
Did you know we have a formal Black History Month now? It's February, the same month as the 88th Academy Awards -- what a coincidence, or maybe not.
Did you know it would be 23 years after your win before another black actor would grace the Oscar stage -- Sidney Poitier, Best Actor for his role in Lilies of the Field?
Then it would be another 19 years before Louis Gossett, Jr. would win a Best Supporting actor for playing Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley in the film An Officer and a Gentleman.
We now have one black actor, Denzel Washington with two Oscars, and a black actress, Halle Berry, became the first African American female to win a Best Actress Oscar.
Now I must apologize to you Ms. McDaniel, because in journalism parlance, I buried the lead, although I touched on it earlier in this letter. We've had an Oscar controversy that has garnered international attention the past two years, thanks in large measure to this thing we have today called social media. News, good and bad, spans the globe in seconds, not hours and days like it did in 1940.
Despite the emergence of a growing cadre of great minority acting performances, we've suddenly reached a point where black actors are unable to earn Academy Award nominations. That's not to say they won't ever again, I see it as a temporary lull caused by a systemic gap in a business that only serves a few.
The problem isn't that those who did earn the nominations aren't great and deserving talent, they most certainly are, and nothing I write from this point forward should be construed as denigrating their performances. I personally, would give an Oscar to each of them if I could. I've seen every nominated performance the past two years -- you won't believe how talented they are.
I'm equally enamored with those black actors, who, for reasons that have nothing to do with their immense talent, were, in an often, and overused cliché, snubbed.
I recently saw pieces of a documentary about your life. Because of segregation you couldn't sit with your fellow actors at the Gone With The Wind table at the Academy Awards. In fact, Producer David O. Selznick had to call in a favor just to get you a small table at a far wall in the room. But you already know this. I'm just providing a little historical context for those of us who weren't there.
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Michael Gordon Bennett is author of the new book 7-10 Split: My Journey As America's Whitest Black Kid currently available on Amazon or on his personal website www.michaelgordonbennett.com. Michael has worked in the entertainment industry for over two decades and owns Bennett Global Entertainment. The company website is www.bge-inc.com.