By April 2, 2024No Comments

In the poem “Cinema Eyes”, by the famous Caribbean poet, Una Marson, the famous writer, poet, and human rights activist, wrote about a time of great segregation in TV and Cinema, against black people, or people of African descent. At that time, black people were not given access to TV, or becoming TV stars. At that time, the black skin was seen as unfit for the screen, and those that were allowed on screen were given undignified roles to play, and we’re compelled to promote an Uncletomish behavior, and to act as fools on screen. This unrealistic portrayal of black people, by the early cinema, resulted in a state of being Una Marson calls the “Cinema Mind”, among blacks who watched those movies. They gave into colorism, and a massive hatred for their race, they followed in the uncletomish way, and in the end, neglected or rejected their African heritage. Truly what the eyes see can greatly impact how an individual acts.

But in time some black women understood this ideology, and they fought their way into the TV and Cinema. Through their hard work, they rewrote the narrative. They could now decide for themselves how Africans, should be addressed and portrayed. They showed the world that “black beauties” can star in movies, that the black skin is beautiful, and that our heritage is worth fighting for. Because of these women, we can watch our favorite black actors and actresses on the screen, taking dignifying roles and effectively showcasing them. But who are these women?

This article will introduce its readers to 5 women who revolutionized the TV and Cinema world, at a time when blacks were segregated.



Hattie McDaniel was an African American actress, comedian, and singer-songwriter, who was born in 1893 to formerly enslaved parents in Wichita Kansas, the McDaniels. Her mother was a singer, and her father fought in the Civil War, as one of the 122nd United States Colored Troops. As the youngest of 13 children, Hattie learned a lot from observation. From the beautiful songs and home performances her mother did, and her elder siblings’ passion for entertaining. Soon, she became an actress. Although Hollywood was extremely segregated, Hattie refused to let the whites put her down. She fought for roles and adequately and effectively played them. Her performances were astonishing, and due to her talents, she only got dignifying roles.

For the role she played in the blockbuster movie, Gone With the Wind, Hattie won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, making her the first African American to win an Oscar award. That wasn’t all her accomplishment though. Hattie was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1975, she received two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 2006 Hattie became the first Black Oscar winner honored with a U.S postage stamp. But even with her tremendous accomplishments, she was still a victim of racism and segregation. Hattie was unable to attend the premiere of Gone with the Wind in Atlanta because it was held at a whites-only theater. In 1952 in the Oscars award ceremony at Los Angeles, Hattie sat at a segregated table at the side of the room. Although she appeared in more than 300 movies, Hattie only received on-screen credits for only 83 movies. But all these setbacks did not stop her. She continued to do what she knew best, and in her way, portrayed Africans to be the embodiments of talents. Apart from movies, Hattie recorded 16 blues, between 1926 and 1929, was a radio performer the first black woman to sing on the radio in the United States, and a television personality. Truly Hattie McDaniel was a remarkable woman.



Dorothy Jean Dandridge was born on November 9, 1922 – September 8, 1965, to entertainer Ruby, and Cabinet maker and Baptiste minister Cyrill Dandridge. After her parents’ divorce, Dorothy and her sister Vivian were taught the act of music and entertainment by their mother, who gave them the stage name; The Wonder Children.

During the great depression of 1930, Ruby along with her children left Ckeavland Ohio, for a better life in Hollywood California. There Dorothy watched her mother take on jobs in radio presentations, and insignificant roles in acting, such as a servant. This must have helped Dorothy to want more for herself.

Dorothy eventually became the very first African American film star to be nominated for the Oscars in the category of Best Actress. She grew to be a much more accomplished vocalist than her mother, performing in places such as the Cotton Club, and even the Apollo Theater. In 1995 Dorothy was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for her spectacular performance in Porgy and Bess, and in 1999 her life was the subject of the biographical film, introducing Dorothy Dandridge, played by Halle Berry. Like many in her time, it was extremely difficult for a black woman to accomplish so much. But Dorothy fought her way through. She broke barriers in Hollywood during a time when opportunities for black actors were limited, and Today, Dorothy’s star still lies on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


Ethel Waters was an African American singer and actress who lived between October 31, 1896 – September 1, 1977. Ethel’s mother was raped at around 13 years of age and Ethel was the result of the incident. Her mother eventually got married, abandoning her in poverty with her grandmother who worked as a maid. Ethel was hated by her family and soon learned that she wasn’t wanted. She got married in 1910 at age 13 but eventually ran away because of how abusive her husband was. She spent her life working odd jobs until the night of her 17th birthday when she was cajoled into singing at a nightclub on Juniper Street. She sang two songs and impressed the audience so much that she was offered professional work at the Lincoln Theatre in Baltimore. After her big break, Ethel became a sensation. She regularly performed jazz swing and pop music on the Broadway stage and in concerts. She kickstarted her career fully in the 1920s by recording and singing blues and soon became a trailblazer for black entertainers in both film and television. Ethel Waters was the second African American to be nominated for an Academy Award, and the first African American to star on her television show, “The Ethel Waters Show,” in 1939. She was the first ever African American to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award, and she faced all this at a time when segregation filled the entertainment industry, but with her talents and hard work, no one could prevent her from what was here. Some of her most notable songs were, “Heat Wave”, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow”, “Supper Time”, etc.


Lena Horne was born in Bedford on June 30, 1917 – May 9, 2010, to a biracial couple, a White father, and a mother from Senegal. Unlike many other women in this article, Lena wasn’t poor. Lena lived in different locations as she grew up. She was first living with her grandparents, then an uncle, later her mother, and subsequently her father. Her family was not ideal. Her parent, a Gambler and hotel owner(father) and an actress(mother) were separated and their family was dysfunctional later it was obvious to Lens that she had to rely only on herself to achieve all she wanted.

With a life like that, one would presume Lena to be a reckless and unwitted girl, but she proved that wrong. Lena had a gift. She was an astonishing singer and a much better performer, and she made sure to use her talents well. Horne joined the chorus of the Cotton Club at the age of sixteen and became a nightclub performer before moving on to Hollywood and Broadway. She also became one of the first black actresses to sign a long-term contract with a major studio, such as MGM.

But even though Lena was a performer, and performed in nightclubs, she was also an advocate for human rights, and she took an active part in fighting for what was right. She joined in so many demonstrations, including the march on Washington in August 1953. Lena was a performer and a good one. She has a record of over 300 performances on Broadway, and in 1981 she starred in her show, the Lena Horne Show. Although she didn’t receive as many awards as many others in the article, Lena Horne represents a black woman who had a goal that was unreachable at her time, but through her hard work resilience, and talent, successfully fought and achieved them all on her own.


Carol Diann Johnson; July 17, 1935 – October 4, 2019, was an African American actress, singer, model, and activist, who through her great talent and hard work broke barriers for African American women in the entertainment industry. Although they didn’t have much, Carol’s parents were supportive of her. From a young age, they had detected their daughter’s talents and had tried to grow them. Carol was enrolled in a Music and Art High School in Harlem, where she was trained in dance, music, modeling, acting, etc. It was at this same school, that she became classmates with the famous Billy Dee Williams.

Carol showed exceptionalism in what she did at only age 15, she was modeling for Ebony, and contesting on different television Talent hunt functions, including Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts.

Carol eventually finished high school, and then attended New York University, majoring in sociology, but quitting school to pursue her dreams. She promised her parents to return to school if she failed, and fortunately for her, she became more successful than she could ever have dreamed of. Carol received a Golden Globe Award for Best TV Female Star for her part in Julia which aired from 1968 to 1971. The series was the first American television to star a black woman in a non-stereotypical role. She became the first African American woman to win the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, for the role she played in the musical, No Strings, and she was nominated for five Emmy Awards. Carol really did change the narrative. She fought for what she wanted even though it was almost impossible at that time because of the color of her skin. But regardless of the troubles she encountered, Carol fought for her dreams to be a reality, and today they are. Some of her most notable films include; Paris Blues, Eve’s Bayou, Grey’s Anatomy, Naked City, etc.


These five remarkable women, Hattie McDaniel, Dorothy Dandridge, Ethel Waters, Lena Horne, and Diahann Carroll, defied the racial barriers of their time to revolutionize the TV and cinema world. Through their talent, resilience, and courage, they not only achieved personal success but also paved the way for future generations of black performers, today we have the likes of Taraji P Henson, Lupita Nyong’o, Idris Elba, Kevin Hart, and a lot more talents dominating the entertainment world. All this is possible because a few black women fought for it. Through their talent, resilience, and hard work, they prove that blacks are equally good enough for the screen. We celebrate these women this Women’s Month, and we appeal that we all utilize the opportunities their sacrifices have made to the fullest. That way, their legacy in the entertainment industry

continues to live on.

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