Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood

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9780060514907: Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood

Hattie McDaniel is perhaps bestknown for her performance as Mammy, the sassyfoil to Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind, one of Hollywood's most revered -- and controversial -- films. McDaniel's Oscar win raised hopes that theentertainment industry was finally ready to createmore respectful, multidimensional roles for blacks.But under the aegis of studio heads eager to pleaseSoutherners, screenwriters kept churning out rolesthat denigrated the African-American experience.

Where McDaniel's stature and popularity shouldhave increased after Selznick's masterpiece cameout, as was the case for her white counterparts, hersdeclined, as an increasingly politicized black audienceturned against her. "I'd rather play a maid than be amaid," is how McDaniel answered her critics. Yet herflippant response belied a woman whose hardscrabblebackground rendered her emotionally conflictedabout the roles she accepted. Here, at last, in a finelytuned biography by Jill Watts, is her story.

Watts, a highly praised researcher and writer,shares little-known aspects of McDaniel's life, fromher dealings with Hollywood's power brokers andblack political organizations to her successful civilrights battle to integrate a Los Angeles neighborhood,revealing a woman hailed by Ebony as anachiever of "more firsts in Hollywood" than anyother black entertainer of her time.

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About the Author:

A professor of history at California State University and the coordinator of the film studies program at California State University, San Marcos, Jill Watts has written two previous books, God, Harlem U.S.A.: The Father Divine Story and Mae West: An Icon in Black and White. She lives in San Marcos, California.

From Publishers Weekly:

In her imperfect yet fascinating biography, Watts (Mae West) unveils the largely tragic tale of Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American to win an Academy Award. Born in 1893, the youngest daughter of freed slaves, McDaniel sang and danced to help provide for her poverty-stricken family. Her early career as a comedian and singer garnered raves. She landed in Hollywood, appearing as an extra in scores of early 1930s films. Soon speaking roles in films like Stella Dallas led to her Oscar-winning performance as Mammy in the 1939 epic Gone with the Wind. This achievement marked the pinnacle of McDaniel's career—and heralded its collapse. Despite the complexity of her portrayal, McDaniel became typecast as the affable, disgruntled or tippling domestic. Although she'd educated herself , dressed elegantly and became involved in a range of political and social issues, McDaniel was hampered by studios that presented her as an eye-rolling, dialect-speaking Jemima. Watts's strength lies in her explication of the political and social conflicts in which McDaniel was embroiled. Yet her illumination of the complex actress herself is weak; she only comes alive in the book's final chapters. Nevertheless, Watts has crafted a compelling, disturbing history of blacks in early Hollywood. Photos.
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