The first African American to win an Oscar was Hattie McDaniel, for her 1939 role as Mammy, a white woman's slave in Gone with the Wind. This was followed up by the 1963 movie Lilies of the Field, with Sidney Poitier playing a white woman's laborer, (He builds a church for German nuns), and 1989's Driving Miss Daisy, in which Morgan Freeman (and take a minute to think about his name), plays a white woman's chauffeur.
No wonder Idris Goodwin wrote these lines in "When Black Actors Win Oscars":
"Thank you, Academy. It's been a journey. I started as a mugger/rapist in a Dirty Harry film. Since then, my path has been paved with pimps, jesters, street hustlers, jive-talking con men. Needless to say, when I read Alfred's script, I jumped at the chance [to] drive the legendary Jessica Tandy around Georgia....This is for all the actors before me who suffered through humiliating roles as coons and servants. This Oscar goes to the bojangles, fetchits...I could feel their spirits on set. They lent me the strength to play this long-suffering slave...."
While it is true that other black actors have won Oscars (Halle Berry, Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Louis Gossett, Denzel Washington and Mo'Nique) — 11 total out of the 332 acting awards conferred to all actors thus far -- the percentages are not high. Nor does the number of Latino actors (1): Rita Moreno in 1962, or the number of Asian-American actors (1): Haing Ngor in 1984 offer much encouragement to me.
The weighted percentages may stem from the composition of the Academy. According to the LA Times, as of 2012, 94% of Academy members are white. 77% are male.
Are you troubled by these figures? Do you see reason to believe that actors of color are being offered more — and more challenging — roles?