As we celebrate Black History Month, it’s the perfect time to honor some of the remarkable trailblazers who have taken home statuettes on Oscar night for their work both in front of and behind the camera. Spanning nine decades, here are some of the films that showcased talent who became historic firsts in their fields.
One of the most lauded comic book-based films in history, this Marvel production from 2018 earned seven Oscar nominations and three wins including a history-making one in Costume Design for Ruth Carter, the first African-American to win the category. In 1993, Carter had been the first Black woman to be nominated in the category, for her work on Malcolm X. (Sharen Davis became the second with her nomination for 2004’s Ray.)
The late Kobe Bryant earned his place in the cinematic record books as the first pro athlete to win an Oscar in any category as well as the first Black winner for Animated Short Film for Dear Basketball (2017), a film he wrote and narrated based on his own real-life retirement letter to the sport he loved so dearly.
Writer-director Jordan Peele’s surprising and influential blend of horror and satirical comedy broke new ground when he became the first Black winner for Original Screenplay, and the film also earned him a Directing nomination. The film’s mixture of biting social commentary and twisty thrills made it a major player on the modern horror scene, with its very title becoming a part of pop culture.
Denzel Washington became the first African-American actor to earn two acting nominations (following Cry Freedom in 1987) and won his second time out for Supporting Actor for his role in this film about an often overlooked chapter in Civil War history. Washington clinched his place in Oscar history again as the first Black actor to win multiple awards when he took home the award for Best Actor for Training Day (2001).
Gone With the Wind
The honor for the first African-American to win (and be nominated for) an Oscar goes to Hattie McDaniel, who won Supporting Actress for her role in David O. Selznick’s oft-debated, epic look at the American South from 1939, set during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras.
Lilies of the Field
Bahamian-American actor Sidney Poitier cemented his status as one of the most popular leading men of the 1960s with this deeply affecting drama that made him the first Black Best Actor winner at the Academy Awards, one of many honors over the course of his career.
Halle Berry brought down the house as she became the first Black woman to take home the Oscar for Best Actress, with an impassioned acceptance speech that name-checked the first Black actress ever nominated in the category, Dorothy Dandridge (whom Berry had played just a few years earlier, to acclaim).
An Officer and a Gentleman
Already established as a leading and character actor in numerous films, Louis Gossett Jr. was the first African-American winner for Supporting Actor for his fiery portrayal as one of the screen’s most memorable drill sergeants.
After wowing Oscar night viewers with his dazzlingly funky performance of “Theme from Shaft,” Isaac Hayes became the first African-American winner for Original Song, with later winners ranging from Stevie Wonder to Common. Hayes was also nominated for Original Dramatic Score for the innovative Black action classic from 1971.
Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse
Peter Ramsey, one of the five winners for Animated Feature Film for this mind-bending adventure, was the first African-American to be nominated for and win in the category. Among the voice talent for the film was another Oscar winner, Mahershala Ali, who was the first Black actor to win twice in the same category for Supporting Actor with Moonlight (2016) and Green Book (2018).
12 Years a Slave
Kenyan-raised Lupita Nyong’o’s searing performance as Patsey was a standout element of British filmmaker Steve McQueen’s triple Oscar-winning 2013 drama about the abducted Solomon Northup, who was forced into a grueling life of slavery in the South. Nyong’o earned a Supporting Actress win—a first for an African thespian—while McQueen made history as the first Black filmmaker to win for Best Picture.
This documentary, from directors Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin, about a dramatic season for Memphis’ Manassas Tigers high school football team, nabbed the Oscar for Documentary Feature, making Martin the first Black director to take home a statuette for a feature-length film.
The 93rd Oscars will be held on Sunday, April 25th at 8 pm EST. Watch it live on ABC or go to ABC.com and log in with your TV provider.