In 1939, Hattie McDaniel won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and became the first black woman to win an Academy Award. Now, 80 years later, Regina King just became the eighth African American woman to take home this particular trophy.
On Sunday night, King won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in If Beale Street Could Talk, and following her victory, she took an opportunity to reflect on her journey to this moment and what it means to follow in McDaniel’s footsteps.
“The love and support and the lifting up that I have received on my journey as an actor in just this last five months, how many people have been rooting for me, and it has not just been black people, although you know, the black family has always lifted me,” King told reporters backstage. “It’s just a reminder of when Hattie McDaniel won, she didn’t win just because black people voted for her. She won because she gave an amazing performance and especially then, the Academy was not as reflective as it is now.”
Although this is an important moment for King, she’s aware that she’s benefiting from the road that was paved by actresses that came before her and that it’s her responsibility to use this as a way to empower the next generation of actors. “We’re still trying to get more reflected, we’re still trying to get there. But I feel like I’ve had so many women that have paved the way, are paving the way, and I feel like I walk in their light and I also am creating my own light, and there are young women that will walk in the light that I’m continuing to shine and expand from those women before me. I’m blessed,” she said.
While backstage, King also opened up about what she drew on for her climactic scene with Victoria — the woman who was pressured by police into accusing her daughter’s boyfriend of rape in If Beale Street Could Talk.
“We just pulled on being women,” she said. “If we have not experienced a violation on that level firsthand, we have lifted a sister up through that. And that, you know, even all the way from when the abuelitas came in and escorted her off, that was something that was universal. Every woman that had something to do with this production [had] the understanding and the need to make sure that it was very clear in this story that we all knew that she was raped. It wasn’t fine, but she was raped, and we hold each other up through a secret that shouldn’t be a secret so often.”
She added: “That’s the beautiful thing about the Me Too movement, and the Me Too movement has, I think, gone even beyond that with creating opportunities for women to find their voice, even beyond just being violated sexually, but being marginalized, being violated, when you have put in the work to be at the table and being denied a seat at the table. This movement has allowed us and has inspired us to say, ‘No. I am supposed to have a seat at that table.’ So that energy was going on throughout the production of this film. [Director Barry Jenkins] supported that and lifted it up as well. And that’s the thing: When you have men and women working together, pretty amazing things happen.”
An adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel of the same name, the film received two other nominations for Best Original Score and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Reporting by Marc Snetiker
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