On Feb. 26, the Academy Awards will roll out its vibrant red carpet for the 89th year in a row. I'll be frank and say that up until this year, I didn't care much about the awards show or the red carpet, since the presence of women of color at the Oscars was so obviously lacking.
Black people, and specifically black women, have made vital contributions to film over the last 100 years, so it's a shame that they have so often been overlooked. Despite the fact that the first black American to ever win the Academy Award was a woman, Hattie McDaniel was left out of the awards ceremony and was forced to accept her award in a segregated hotel. Another decade would pass before another black actress won the Academy Award in 1949. Of course, the infamous red carpet wouldn’t become an Oscar tradition until 1961 — just a few years shy of the end of segregation.
Despite it all, there have been some incredible moments for black women at the Oscars over the years. In honor of the many black women to step foot on the often racially skewed carpet to make the journey towards diversifying the Hollywood tradition, let’s take a look back on some of the most powerful memories black women have brought to the Oscars red carpet.
Diana Ross At The 45th Academy Awards
That year, the Supremes' lead singer Diana Ross was one of the first females (after Barbara Streisand and Jane Fonda) to wear pants, on the Oscars red carpet. She was nominated for her role as Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues, making her the first black American woman to be nominated for a lead role in a debut performance. 1973 would also mark the first time multiple black actresses received Best Actress nominations with both Diana Ross and Cicily Tyson in the category.
Irene Cara At The 55th Academy Awards
Irene Cara, who gave us "What A Feeling," one of the best feel-good anthems of the '80s (and the theme song for Flashdance), won the category for Best Original Song. Irene is the first and only black women to win this category. On the red carpet, Cara stunned in a black gown and gloves, a perfect vision of '80s style.
Whoopi Goldberg At The 58th Academy Awards
Whoopi Goldberg, or as the late Robin Williams affectionately introduced her at the 58th Academy Awards, Madame Whoop, wore her legendary locks proudly on the red carpet as well as inside the exclusive event. The comedian herself was nominated for her role as Celie Johnson in the monumental film The Color Purple. Whoopi didn’t go home with a golden statue that year, but the film mark a different landmark marking the first time multiple black women received nominations for the same film.
Oprah At The 58th Academy Awards
Oprah, America’s original bae, made her red carpet debut memorable in a regal gold gown. That year, Oprah was nominated for best supporting actress for a her role as Nettie in The Color Purple.
Angela Basset At The 67th Academy Awards
That year Angela was nominated for her breakthrough performance as Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It — one of the few films at the time to unapologetically approach the issues surrounding domestic violence in the black community.
Aaliyah At The 70th Academy Awards
Off the red carpet, 19-year-old Aaliyah became the youngest singer to perform at the Oscars. her powerful performance of “Journey To The Past” at the 70th Academy Awards.
Halle Berry At The 74th Academy Awards
Halle Berry broke hearts in a legendary plum leaf-gown on the red carpet this year, and she had to be feelin’ herself in one the best dresses of all-time. Berry accepted the award for Best Actress for her role as Leticia Musgrove in Monsters Ball.
Queen Latifah At The 74th Academy Awards
Queen Latifah/Q/Khadijah/Queen/My everything switched up her fresh wardrobe for the pristine white slip gown on the red carpet. Queen was nominated for Best Supporting Actress category for her memorable role of Matron "Mama" Morton in the musical Chicago. She made her own moment in history as the first hip-hop artist to be nominated for an Academy Award.
Jennifer Hudson At The 79th Academy Awards
That year, Jennifer Hudson was properly bedazzled to take home the win for Best Supporting Actress for Dreamgirls, becoming the youngest black person ever to win an Academy Award at the age of 25.
Mo'Nique & Gaborey Sidibe At The 82nd Academy Awards
After turning heads in a floor-length golden gown, Mo’Nique, the Queen of Comedy, took up the win for her performance as Mary in the movie Precious. The monumental film dominated the Academy Awards that year with six nominations and two wins, Gabourey Sidibe was nominated for Best Performance by an Actress category for her powerful portrayal in Precious however she didn’t take the win and even though she looked stunning on the red carpet.
Viola Davis The 84th Academy Awards
Viola Davis ditched her wig on the red carpet that year, making a powerful statement that you don't need a wig or a weave to look beautiful AF.
Lupita Nyong'o At The 85th Academy Awards
Lupita Nyong'o became everyone’s #wce on the red carpet in a pale, deep-cut gown that made her dark-skinned complexion looking even more striking. She made history when she won the award for Best Actress for her role in 12 Years of Slave by being the first African to ever take home an Oscar.
Lil Kim At The 87th Academy Awards
Lil Kim’s appearance on the red carpet reopened rumors that the Junior M.A.F.I.A front woman was bleaching her skin. She looked absolutely gorgeous in her intricate light pink dress, a step up from the notorious shell-on-the-boob outfit.
Jada Pinkett-Smith's Boycott Of The 88th Academy Awards
Jada Pinkett-Smith, a regular on the red carpet, was missing in action along with a list of celebs that boycotted the 88th Academy Awards, which started plenty of conversations about representation on the red carpet. Though she wasn't actually there, her actions clearly made an impact. Chris Rock gave a nod to what Smith and other were feeling with a brutally honest monologue that made a lot of people think.
As we settle into our couches or bar stools to watch the Oscars, it's always awesome to acknowledge the black woman who have gracefully walked the red-carpeted road to give young, aspiring black girls at home much-needed representation. This year's show could have more representation than ever — and let's hope it just keeps growing from there.