Academy to Replace Hattie McDaniel's 'Historic' Missing Oscar Trophy for “Gone with the Wind”

McDaniel became the first Black person ever to take home an Oscar at the 12th Academy Awards in 1940, where she won Best Supporting Actress

<p>Getty</p> Hattie McDaniel with her Oscar on March 2, 1940, in Los Angeles


Hattie McDaniel with her Oscar on March 2, 1940, in Los Angeles

Hattie McDaniel's historic Oscar is being replaced by the Academy.

On Tuesday, the group announced their plans to issue a replacement of the trophy that McDaniel won for Best Supporting Actress at the 1940 Academy Awards, for her performance in Gone with the Wind. The honor made McDaniel the first Black person to win an Oscar.

"The Academy will gift to the Howard University Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts a replacement of actor Hattie McDaniel’s Best Supporting Actress Academy Award®," according to an official release. "Howard University will host a ceremony titled 'Hattie’s Come Home' at its Ira Aldridge Theater in Washington, D.C., on October 1, 2023."

In the release, the Academy said that the "whereabouts" of the late McDaniel's original trophy "are unknown," and that she originally "received not a statuette but a plaque, as was customary for supporting performance winners from 1936 to 1942."

"McDaniel’s award stands out in Academy history; it would be 51 years before another Black woman would win an acting Oscar®," the release added. (The 1991 honoree was Whoopi Goldberg, who also won Best Supporting Actress, for her role in Ghost.)

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According to the release, "McDaniel bequeathed her Academy Award to Howard University upon her death in 1952. The award was displayed at the university’s drama department until the late 1960s."

McDaniel beat costar Olivia de Havilland to win Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Scarlett O’Hara’s (Vivien Leigh) maid Mammy in the 1939 Civil War epic. After McDaniel died from breast cancer in 1952 at the age of 59, the award was supposed to be donated to Howard University, per her will.

There are several theories as to what happened to McDaniel's plaque, which George Washington Law School Professor W. Burlette Carter previously outlined in a detailed paper on the subject. Carter conducted an 18-month investigation, and largely dismissed the most commonly held theory that student activists tossed it into the Potomac River as part of a protest in the late 1960s.

Over the years, Howard University and other groups have asked for a replacement Oscar to be issued, which has historically been against Academy rules.

“We do not create replacements for heirs or whomever may have come into possession of an award following the winner’s death,” Leslie Unger, a spokesperson for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, previously told The Washington Post.

<p>FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty</p> From L: Oscar Polk, Vivien Leigh and Hattie McDaniel in <em>Gone with the Wind</em> (1939)

FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty

From L: Oscar Polk, Vivien Leigh and Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind (1939)

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During her emotional acceptance speech at the 12th Academy Awards in 1940, McDaniel called her win "one of the happiest moments of my life."

"I want to thank each one of you who had a part in selecting me for one of the awards for your kindness," she continued. "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."

McDaniel concluded, "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.”

In the release announcing the replacement award, Jacqueline Stewart, Ph.D., Director and President of the Academy Museum, and Academy CEO Bill Kramer praised McDaniel as "a groundbreaking artist who changed the course of cinema and impacted generations of performers who followed her."

"We are thrilled to present a replacement of Hattie McDaniel’s Academy Award to Howard University,” they added in their joint statement. “This momentous occasion will celebrate Hattie McDaniel’s remarkable craft and historic win.”

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