Sistah’s In Hollywood

As for those grapefruit and buttermilk diets, I’ll take roast chicken and dumplings

-Hattie McDaniels

Being in the limelight in Hollywood is the most amazing experience for a lot of people. It’s like sitting on cloud nine. There are many who excel in the tough world of Hollywood. For others, it literally becomes the death of them. All that fame and notoriety comes with a price. Watching your favorite actor or actress play a character in a movie looks pretty easy. It looks so easy, for some, it’s inspiring. What they don’t tell you is all of the rejection they face before they actually make it to the big screen. Making it big in Hollywood is not all glitter’s and glam. Some people face so much rejection that it kills them, literally. There’s all kind of reasons for rejection behind the big screen. Whether you’re too skinny, too fat, too dark, or just plain unwanted, rejection is a hard fact of life in Hollywood, especially for people of color.

During slavery and segregation, people of color starring in films were almost unheard of. Whether you were male of female, if you weren’t white, playing on the big screen was pretty much out of the question. Every now and then you may see a man or woman of color on the big screen, but their roles were very minuscule. They were either an extra or played roles such as a kitchen worker, maid, or a gardener. Their roles were never long enough to get public notoriety. As we all know, with hard work comes great success, and that’s just what Hattie McDaniel set out to prove. The first African-American woman to win an Oscar for her role in ‘Gone With the Wind.’

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McDaniel was born in 1893 in Wichita, Kansas. She was one of 13 children from her father who was a minister and her mother who was a domestic worker. From an early age, she tapped into her flair of singing, performing in her church and signing various bouts around the house. In 1909, after professionally mastering her skill of singing and dancing, she dropped out of high school and pursued a full-fledged career with her brothers. They became known as the Mighty Minstrels. She married the pianist in the group and branched out to start her own all women’s minstrel group. By the 1920’s McDaniel had made a name for herself. She was touring all over and was invited to be on Denver’s KOA radio show. She became the first African-American woman in radio.

After struggling to make ends meet doing radio, she was convinced by her brother and sister to move to Los Angeles where her career as an actress began. Before landing any major movie or screen roles, she started out on her brother’s radio show KNX and became a hit. She was dubbed ‘Hi-Hat Hattie.’ It wasn’t until 1932, that she landed her first screen role as a maid in The Golden West. This would be the start of a long, yet rewarding career in television. As I stated earlier, women and men of color were not in high demand back in the 1930’s for Hollywood roles, so she still had to take up odd jobs here and there just to make ends meet. That didn’t stop her, she continued to push through until she landed another role performing a duet with Will Rogers in 1934’s  Judge Priest. McDaniel was finally making headway. She worked with other big names such as Shirley Temple, Lionel Barrymore, and Irene Dunne.

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By this time, McDaniel was making history for all the African-American women around the world who aspired to be on film. She was becoming a hot commodity in the Hollywood community. Everyone loved her, and her voice was phenomenal. She was pursued by many, but it wasn’t until 1939 that her life changed forever. She was cast as Mammy, the house servant of Scarlett O’Hara (played by Vivian Leigh) in the movie Gone with the Wind. How awesome is it to have your face all over Hollywood as one of the most successful African-American women ever to grace the television set. Pretty awesome, right? Now imagine not being able to see your own movie. That’s just what happen to McDaniel. When it was time for the movie to premier in theaters, she was barred from seeing her own movie. She along with several other African-American’s were barred from seeing the movie. Keep in mind it’s still the 1930s so segregation and Jim Crow laws were in full effect. It wouldn’t be until the following year that she’d get the recognition she’d work so hard for.

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In 1940, Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American woman to win an Oscar. Pretty awesome, right. Well, remember earlier in the article when I said that all that glitter’s and glam came with a price? As her career started to flourish, McDaniel received harsh criticism from the troops and members of the post-war community for the roles she was playing. Playing roles of servants and slaves did not sit too well with many in the black community. They believed it portrayed people of color in a negative light and was way too stereotypical. The president of the NAACP (National Association Advancement for Colored People) pleaded with Hollywood filmmakers to create more realistic roles for people of color. They believed that creating roles that were more than just slaves and servants, showed the true intellect and education of people of color. McDaniel was not swayed by such backlash. She defended her roles and suggested that playing the role of  Mammy did just that. In fact, she had a valid point. It proved that she was more than a slave or a servant. She was a movie star. Just because she played such roles didn’t make her that in real life. She surpassed all obstacles and people that became a roadblock to her success.

I did my best, and God did the rest

-Hattie McDaniel

As the fight to stop such roles began to progress, McDaniel’s appearance on the big screen was starting to diminish. People in the black community were urging filmmakers to do away with such roles. As the roles became less and less popular, McDaniel returned to radio. Seven years after winning an Oscar, she landed a role on CBS radio as another maid. She convinced the NAACP to let her use her talents to break racial stereotypes and be more than what she said they were. It wouldn’t be until 1951, that she’d be seen on television again. She brought her radio character to life on the big screen. Unfortunately, she suffered a heart attack and her acting role was short lived. She was later diagnosed with breast cancer and succumbed to the disease in 1952.

The life and career of Hattie McDaniel paved the way for many men and women of color, especially women. Women were always regarded to as property, so we were forced to prove our worth in the industry. Women were laughed at and shunned away as we were thought to be housemaids, nothing more nothing less. Women of color, on the other hand, weren’t even recognized as human. McDaniel broke the barriers down for all of that. She proved that women of color can be more than just servants and slaves. We can be whomever or whatever we put our minds to. With hard work, anything is possible. She received two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in 1975 was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.

First Lady of Black History

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As we know, today is the first day of Black History Month. This the start of a month long celebration to acknowledge the many accomplishments of African-Americans who have made a major impact in our lives. Whether it’s movies or politics, these are the people we pay homage to during this month. While there are many men and women to give credit to for changing America’s history, this month I’m dedicating it to the women. Not saying men aren’t as important, it just time for our ladies to have a voice all on their own. The accomplishments of women in history don’t get as much of a voice as the accomplishments of men. Sometimes they even go unnoticed. Not this month. This month I’m bringing women to the forefront. Women have sacrificed a lot for this country. Black, White, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, Latina, Middle Eastern, it’s time we are recognized for it.

My first lady of Black History Month is Mrs. Sarah Breedlove. You may know her better as Madam C. J. Walker. It wasn’t until 1906, when she married her third husband, Mr. Charles J. Walker that she would become one of the most phenomenal women in African-American History. Mrs. Walker started out as a laundress, barely making enough to earn college fund. Determined to give her and her daughter a better education, she started selling hair care products for a wealthy woman by the name of Annie Malone. It wasn’t until then that Mrs. Walker began to educate herself more about the hair care product industry.

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Sarah Breedlove was one of six children born after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. This was a legislative bill signed by President Abraham Lincoln ending slavery and deeming it unconstitutional. Due to her parent’s passing, she was an orphan at the age of seven. She was taken in by her older sister and her husband. At the tender age of 14, she married her first husband and gave birth to a baby girl. In 1906, she married Charles J. Walker, a newspaper salesman she had known from Missouri. This would be the start of a lucrative journey for her.

Sarah suffered from severe dandruff, hair loss, and other various scalp ailments due to the harsh chemicals such as lye that was put into the soaps and other hair care products. Her brothers whom were barbers at the time, educated her on hair care products to treat black women’s hair. It was at this point she became a commission agent for Annie T. Malone, another successful African-American woman. While working for Malone, she started to educate herself on hair care and took interest in starting her own hair care line.

In 1906, Mrs. Walker and her daughter moved to Colorado where she continued to sell hair product for Malone, and pursued her own hair care business. She inherited the first name Madam as that was a French term for women in the beauty industry. Walker sold her products door to door, educating women on how to train and groom their hair. Her husband became her business partner and helped with her promotion and advertising. She later put her daughter in charge of her mail order operations while she and her husband traveled the Southern parts of the United States, expanding their business. Walker and Malone became rivals in the hair care industry as Walker’s products began to flourish.

In 1910, Indianapolis became the hometown headquarters for Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company. She later opened a training school, hair salon, and factory to train other women. Walker developed her own system known as “The Walker System” that was designed to help brittle hair become soft and luxurious. There were similar products being produced by competitors such as Annie Malone with her Poro System and Sarah Washington with the Apex System. Walker’s hair school trained over 20,000 women over the years all over the south. Her hair products would later be spread throughout the Caribbean, Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Panama, and Costa Rica. With all of her advertisements in newspapers in the black community, it’s no wonder Mrs. Walker became an overnight success.

In addition to her flourishing hair care product line, she was also a philanthropist and activist. She educated women on better budgeting, giving them the necessary information to start their own business and become financially independent. This was the start of a new movement for women. Walker became an icon and an inspiration to women everywhere. She gave women the courage and confidence to step out on faith and achieve the goals you set forth. 

“I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business manufacturing hair goods and preparations. I have built my own factory, on my own ground.”

-Madam C.J. Walker

  • 1918 Walker was acknowledge by the NACWC (National Association of Colored Women’s Club) for making the largest contribution to save Frederick Douglass’ Anacostia house
  • She helped raised funds to establish a branch of the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) in the black community in Indianapolis
  • She was a leader in the Circle for Negro War Relief where she advocated to establish training camps for black army officers

Before It Even Get’s Started: Intro to Black History Month

The more you know of your history, the more liberated you are

-Maya Angelou

We are one week away from the beginning of Black History month. This is a month dedicated to acknowledging the African-Americans who have made an impact on America as a whole. This a time to gain knowledge and really learn where we come from. Being an African-American woman, it is very important for me to learn my heritage. It is imperative that I know and understand the sacrifices that those before me made. It is really imperative that I understand the significance of Black History Month and be able to share my knowledge with others. With that being said, I’ll introduce you to a little history of the meaning of the true reason for Black History Month.

So while we know on the surface that February is Black History Month, do we really know why this month was chosen? Well, Black History wasn’t always celebrated for the whole month. You see, back in 1926, Carter G Woodson created Black History week, which was dedicated to celebrating the achievements of many African Americans and their impact on the United States. That week also happened to be right around the time President Abraham Lincoln celebrated his birthday, which was in, you guessed it, February. The other well-known names in Black History who celebrated their birthday’s in February include Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass. It was decided that black history week would take place on the second week in February since President Lincoln’s birthday was the 12th of the month and Mr. Douglass’ birthday was the 14th.

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When Mr. Woodson created Black History week, this gave blacks a platform to rise from. Mr. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History put heavy pressure on the Department of Education to teach Black History to students in school. Of course, this was met with a mediocre response and was accepted by only four states. The four states include North Caroline, Baltimore, West Virginia, and Washington, DC. In the coming weeks, Black History week would spark a major change in the education system and teachers worldwide. Leaders from organizations all over learned about these teachings. Churches and schools starting printing literature for black history week and incorporating it into their teachings. With it’s progressive interests, mayors across the United States were considering endorsing black history week as a holiday. Talk about really making an impact on American History. Imagine having a holiday that consisted of a whole week. That would be pretty awesome!

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With such an enthusiastic response from the press and progressive whites, this pushed students at Kent University to propose that Black History week be celebrated the whole month of February. In 1969, Black United Students at Kent University proposed this idea, and the first celebration of Black History month took place in 1970 at Kent University. In 1976, President Ford recognized the expansion of Black History week to Black History Month. He stated “I urge Americans to seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Black History Month has been celebrated for many decades, and it’s concept has been widely adopted. The United Kingdom celebrated Black History Month in 1987 followed by Canada in 1995. The teaching of Black History in February was one of the most important movements in Black History period. This paved the way for many others to pay homage to those whose accomplishments changed and continue to change the way America operates.

In recent years, there has been some harsh criticism about why Black History was crammed into one month. As I stated earlier, this month was chosen to coincide with President Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’ birthday. That’s not to say that blacks or African-Americans aren’t making history every day. This concept was chosen so that everyone could gain awareness and knowledge of unrecognized accomplishments by black people and it could be brought to the forefront.