Imagine working cheek to cheek with some of H-wood’s biggest stars, being nominated and winning an academy award, and being lucky enough to be the first to do it.
Now imagine doing your business on a toilet designated for ‘Colored’s Only’ while on set, because despite your glittering stardom, segregation was still a thing.
Welcome to Old Hollywood. Minority stars who shined on the black and white screen endured treatment that would make the most politically incorrect behavior of 2017 seem like a cakewalk.
In 1939, Gone With The Wind was a block buster hit thanks to Hattie McDaniel. Her huge personality and on screen persona out-shined her white costars landing her an Academy Award for her role. However on the night of the ceremony, which took place at a “whites-only” hotel in L.A., McDaniel got was only allowed in after her agent pulled a few strings. Once there she could not sit at the table with her co-stars, so she sat separately.
*Cues Solange’s A Seat At The Table*
Behavior like this in Old Hollywood was common in the 1930–1950s on and off the screen.
Actress Kim Novak and singer Sammy Davis Jr. had grown a liking to one another. There romance posed only one problem. She was a white actress and he was a black singer. Getting your swirl-on could cost you your life back then and for Davis it almost did. Producer Harry Cohen had the mob put a hit on him threatening to have him killed if the affair with Novak continued. Davis backed down from the relationship for his own safety.
Mega star Lena Horne, made a point to secretly marry her Caucasian husband in Europe so not to upset her producers. All the while Horne, who emerged on the scene “clouted up” thanks to her affluent father, became a “sex-symbol” among the black men who had not seen an actress like Horne on-screen before. How was she able to deviate away from the “mammy” and “maid” typecasting? By her father’s request to never be casted in such roles. As a result she faced a lot of controversy in her career off-screen for being “boujie” as described by other Black actors and actresses.
Clearly the politics and culture of Hollywood isn’t particularly fair for POC. At this year’s 69th Primetime Emmy Awards, actress and creator of Insecure, Issa Rae, was interviewed by the press in regards to who she would like to see go home with the golden statue of honor. In two words she summed up the disposition of hope many African Americans have after facing years of hardships in media and other industries. “Everybody Black.”