The Academy Awards began in 1929. Since then, and at the time of writing this, there have been 82 black male Oscar winners. Some of these men have won for acting, some for directing, and some for producing.
In this article, we will look at some of the most famous black male Oscar winners and explore what made them so successful. We will also discuss how their accomplishments have helped break down barriers for other black entertainers.
Sidney Poitier, Winning Best Actor in a Leading Role 1964
Few people can claim to have as many awards, or accomplished so much in their lifetime. Throughout the course of his life, Sidney Poitier became an actor, activist, ambassador, and film director. In 1958, Poitier was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in The Defiant Ones, making him the first-ever Black man to be nominated for the award.
However, it wasn’t until 1964 that Poitier won the Best Actor Oscar for Lilies of the Field. With his award, Poiter also became the first Black man to win the award, the first Bahamian to win the award, and the first Black man to receive two nominations for the same award.
Louis Gosset Jr., Best Actor in a Supporting Role 1982
Louis Gossett Jr. is an American actor who has been in the film industry for over 50 years and will go down as one of its greatest, if not favorite, actors ever to grace the public with his presence on screen or stage.
He achieved success early by landing roles like Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley in An Officer And A Gentleman, which earned him his first Oscar nomination and win. Gosset stars in many other films, including A Raisin in the Sun, Enemy Mine, The White Dawn, and The Punisher. He also performed as The Fiddler in the TV miniseries Roots.
Denzel Washington, Who Won Best Actor in a Supporting Role 1989
Denzel Washington is one of the most successful actors in Hollywood, having starred in numerous films. His notable works include Glory, Philadelphia and Malcolm X to name a few.
Washington was Oscar nominated and won for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Private Trip in the critically acclaimed film, Glory. He also went on to win the Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar in 2001 for his performance in Training Day. While he won those two awards, he received nominations for countless other roles and awards. In fact, Washington has the most Academy Award nominations of any African American actor or actress.
Russell Williams II, Best Sound 1990
The list of films that have benefited from his sound mixing includes Dances with Wolves, Field of Dreams, Training Day, and Glory, although he has over 50 film credits to his name. Williams’ talents have led to his concurrent success within the Academy Awards. He was nominated and won for Best Sound in both 1989 and 1990.
In 1990, Williams took home the award for Best Sound for Glory. Williams returned to the Oscars the following year only to win again for his work with Dances with Wolves. He is the only African American person who has won multiple Oscars for the same category and to win consecutive awards for the same category.
Jaime Foxx, Best Actor in a Leading Role, 2004
Jamie Foxx is one of America’s most talented and accomplished actors. He has played a broad scope of characters throughout his career and garnered various awards, including a BAFTA Award for Leading Role in a Movie or TV Series, Golden Globe, and Academy Award.
Jamie won the Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar for portraying Ray Charles in the feature film Ray about the renowned artist. In the same year Foxx won the award for Ray, he was also nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for the film Collateral. As such, Foxx is the first African American to be nominated twice in the same year.
Forest Whitaker, Winner Of Best Actor in a Leading Role, 2006
Forest Whitaker is a Hollywood actor who has been in the industry for over 30 years. He made his big time debut in Fast Times at Ridgemont High in 1982 and has starred in movies such as Platoon and Good Morning Vietnam to name just two of his many award winning performances that have made him popular around Hollywood.
In 2006, it was just a matter of time before Whitaker took home an Oscar for his work. He went on to earn the award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance in The Last King of Scotland. In the film, he gave an unforgettable portrayal of a Ugandan Dictator. His most recent performance was in the smash hit Marvel film, Black Panther.
Roger Ross Williams, Best Documentary (Short Subject), 2009
Roger Ross Williams is an Academy Award-winning director, producer and writer who has made films that tackle complicated issues. His 2018 documentary film, Life, Animated, won various awards, including three Emmys, the Sundance Film Festival Directing Award, and received an Academy Award nomination.
However, he won an Academy Award in 1990 for his documentary, Music by Prudence, which had its debut on HBO. Music by Prudence is the intimate story of one Zimbabwean woman’s journey from hate to love with music. While a few others were nominated, Williams was—and still is—the first African American to win the Oscar for Best Documentary.
Geoffrey Fletcher, Best Adapted Screenplay 2009
Geoffrey Fletcher is an academy award-winning Hollywood screenwriter and film director. He wrote the script for Precious, adapted from the popular novel Push by Sapphire. The adaptation won him international recognition as well as an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. Not to mention, Fletcher was the first African American to win an Oscar for writing.
In addition to Precious, Fletcher wrote the 2018 film Trial by Fire and wrote and directed the film Violet & Daisy in 2011. While neither received as much attention as his theatrical debut, Precious, The New School adapted Violet & Daisy for the stage in 2019.
T.J. Martin, Best Documentary Feature 2012
TJ Martin is an Oscar and Emmy award-winning American filmmaker. He’s most well known for his 2011 film, Undefeated which won the 2012 Best Documentary Feature Academy Awards against stiff competition, such as Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, Hell and Back Again, Pina, and If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front.
Martin was the first African American to win the Best Documentary Feature Oscar award. He also co-edited and co-directed the 2017 documentary film LA 92, which took home a Primetime Emmy for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking.
John Ridley, Best Adapted Screenplay 2014
John Ridley is a highly talented and successful American screenwriter, television director, novelist and showrunner known for his adaptation of 12 Years a Slave.
His screenplay for the renowned film garnered him an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, making him only the second ever African American person to win the award and the first to win the award for a film that also took home the award for Best Picture. His other works include, Red Tails and Undercover Brother.
He’s additionally known for creating and producing American Crime, a limited anthology series featured on ABC. While the network canceled the series after three seasons, it received many Primetime Emmy Award nominations.
Steve McQueen, Best Picture 2014
Steve McQueen is largely seen as one of the best directors in Hollywood and British-born to boot. His most famous movie, 12 Years a Slave, tells the story of a free African American man who was unfortunitly kidnapped and sold into slavery. John Ridley adapted the film from Solomon Northrup’s 1853 memoirs.
While Ridley won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for the film, McQueen took home the win for Best Picture. Overall, the film received nine Academy Award nominations.
McQueen was the first African American director and producer to win the award, followed only by Barry Jenkins in 2016 for Moonlight. McQueen was also nominated for Best Director for the film, but did not win.
Ezra Edelman, Best Documentary Feature 2016
Ezra Edelman is a New York-based director and producer who has directed many HBO documentary series, including Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals and The Curious Case of Curt Flood.
However, Edelman is most famously known for his 2016 Oscar win for his documentary O.J.: Made in America. Edelman won the Oscar as the director and producer for Best Documentary Feature. He is only the second Black male oscar winner for this category.
Barry Jenkins, Best Picture 2016
Barry Jenkins is a film director, screenwriter and producer who made his filmmaking debut with the short film My Josephine. Shortly after its release, Jenkins began receiving recognition, including the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature. However, Jenkins then took an eight-year hiatus.
It wasn’t until after his hiatus that Jenkins directed and co-wrote the smash hit film, Moonlight. As a result of his masterwork, Jenkins received an Oscar nomination for Best Director, an Oscar win for Best Picture, and a joint win with Tarell Alvin McCraney for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Jordan Peele, Best Original Screenplay 2017
Jordan Peele is a hilarious and talented actor, comedian and filmmaker who has been making waves with his films in the horror genre.
He starred as a cast member on Fox’s Mad TV before co-creating Key & Peele, a sketch comedy show that would eventually become one of Comedy Central’s most successful series.
Following various film and TV appearances, Peele launched into his directing career with his debut film, Get Out. The film was an immediate hit, scoring Peele many accolades, including the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. In fact, Peele was the first African-American to win the award.
Mahershala Ali, Who Won Best Actor in a Supporting Role 2018
With his extraordinary range—from film to television to theater work—he can be seen everywhere you look lately. His diverse experience only adds more fuel for fans across all demographics.
He has starred in various films and TV shows, such as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, House of Cards, The Place Beyond the Pines, and, of course, the critically acclaimed Green Book.
After Green Book’s run, Ali received the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. The award came only two years after Ali’s Oscar win for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Moonlight.
Peter Ramsey, Best Animated Feature Film 2019
Peter Ramsey, a talented storyboard and story artist, and producer and director, has worked as an artist and illustrator for many films, including Fight Club, Independence Day, and Predator 2. Later in his career, he went on to direct the animated feature film Rise of the Guardians.
Then, he helped co-direct the popular animated movie, Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse for which he was the first African American man to be nominated for and win an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film.
Daniel Kaluuya, Best Actor in a Supporting Role 2020
Daniel Kaluuya may be an English actor, but he’s probably best known for his work on American soil in feature films including Black Panther and Get Out. Kaluuya was actually recognized and nominated for his stellar performance in Get Out with an Oscar nomination in 2017.
However, it wasn’t until his leading role in Judah and the Black Messiah in 2020 that he won the Oscar for Best Actor.
Best Black Male Oscar Winners, Final Thoughts
The black male entertainers who have won Oscars are not just successful themselves—they’ve also helped break down barriers for other black professionals. This list of African American Oscar winners can be seen as inspiration for other aspiring actors and young black men nationwide.