With such a massive talent pool of stars who’ve graced the red carpet and influenced thousands of people, it’s challenging to know how to start this compilation. Black Oscar Winners have contributed to the silver screen and set a tone for change.
These legends didn’t just take home the coveted Oscar for acting roles. They brought home the statue for outstanding screenplays, music, sound, documentaries, production, animation, and lifetime achievements.
1. Hattie McDaniel (1940)
If any actress deserves the number one spot on the Oscar list, it’s Hattie McDaniel. Although famous as the unforgettable Mammy in ‘Gone with the Wind’ and received the Best Supporting Actress plaque, McDaniel remains a true trailblazer.
Battling racism and segregation prevented McDaniel from receiving her Oscar in Atlanta. The Academy held the event in a white-only theater.
McDaniel was also the first black American woman to sing on the radio.
She was an accomplished singer, songwriter, comedian, and T.V. personality honored with two stars on the Walk of Fame.
2. T.J. Martin (2012)
T.J. Martin is another to receive another first for African-Americans with his Oscar win. His stellar documentary ‘Undefeated’ received the prestigious award for his co-director role. Martin has won many awards for his documentaries.
The Oscar is for his contributions as co-director, co-editor, and co-cinematographer to the story about the Memphis football team, the Manassas Tigers.
Martin’s prolific portfolio includes many nominations and wins in the prestigious industry, including Emmy and Academy Awards.
3. Louis Gossett Jr. (1982)
Gosset Jr. received the Best Supporting Actor award for his memorable role as Sergeant Emil Foley starring opposite Richard Gere in the box office hit, “An Officer and a Gentleman.’ Richard Gere did not win for his role.
The film also garnered Gosset Jr. a Golden Globe Award and an NAACP for Outstanding Actor in a role.
Gosset Jr. started his career on Broadway and received an Emmy for his role in the 1977 epic television drama ‘Roots.’
4. Isaac Hayes (1972)
Hayes took the Best Original Song trophy for the theme song in ‘Shaft.’ The Oscar also represents the first African American to win an Oscar for music. Hayes (Porter & Hayes) is only the 3rd black Oscar winner behind McDaniel and Poitier to be distinguished.
Multi-talented, his contemporaries inducted Hayes into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Many people will recognize Hayes as the voice behind Chef on Southpark.
5. Prince (1984)
Missed yet still current, Prince received a notable Best Original Song Score for ‘Purple Rain’ in 1984. This award made him the first African- American Oscar winner for the now-retired category.
Prince is memorable for his enormous talent as a musician and artist.
The album ‘Purple Rain’ reached #1 on Billboard 200 and is still one of the best-selling albums of all time. Because of its cultural significance, the Library of Congress’s National Registry keeps a copy.
6. Lionel Richie (1985)
Fans will remember Richie for so much more than the Oscar Award for his iconic tune, ‘Say You, Say Me,’ from the movie ‘White Nights.’ It stars dance legend Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines.
Richie is an accomplished singer-songwriter and producer who became famous as the co-lead singer of the Commodores. He still dominates the music industry and remains one of the world’s best-selling artists.
7. Herbie Hancock (1987)
Rightly so, Hancock added to the Black Oscar Winner collection for the Best Original Score for ‘Round Midnight,’ a musical drama.
Many of us remember Hancock for ‘Rockit,’ an instrumental collaboration with Bill Laswell. Few people know that Hancock was a massive influence on jazz music and performed with jazz icons like Miles Davis.
‘Hey, hey, hey, It’s Fat Albert’ is just one sample of his many contributions to film and music.
8. Irene Cara (1983)
Nearly forty years ago, Irene Cara took to the stage and shared her Oscar win for ‘What a Feeling’ with partners Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey.
Few people won’t instantly hear the song and powerful voice of Cara and remember the iconic scene from the movie Flashdance, for which the trio received the Best Original Song award
Cara is the first African-American Oscar winner in a non-acting category. She launched to stardom with her performance as an actress and singer in ‘Fame.’
9. Stevie Wonder (1984)
Keeping within the music thread of Oscar Award winners, Stevie Wonder took his golden statue home for ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You,’ for the movie ‘The Woman in Red,’ and for Best Original Song.
A child prodigy, Wonder became a legend among music greats. His music influenced countless genres, including rhythm & blues, soul, pop, gospel, funk, and jazz.
He’s a one-man band with the honor of being inducted into several music-related Hall of Fame institutions. Wonder also holds the record for most Grammys by a solo artist.
10. Jennifer Hudson (2006)
And the first Oscar for a Black Actress in a musical film goes to Jennifer Hudson for her role as Effie White in ‘Dreamgirls.’ This award also marked Hudson as the youngest African-American Oscar Winner.
Hudson received the Best Supporting Actress Award and has since won dozens of other equally momentous awards for her musical and film contributions. Hudson became a household name in 2004 as a finalist on the 3rd season of American Idol and finishing in seventh place.
11. Willie D. Burton (1988)
Willie D. Burton set the tone for his first black Oscar win for Best Sound production in the Eastwood-directed film ‘Bird’ in 1988.
Although Burton has seven Academy nominations, he won the Oscar twice. The second time he took home the statue for ‘Dreamgirls’ was in 2006.
While few people will recognize Burton, he’s the man behind the sound for ‘The Shawshank Redemption,’ Seven,’ and ‘Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.’ Burton also worked with Sidney Poitier in 1975, who gave him his big break.
12. Russell Williams II (1989)(1990)
Few people ever receive an Oscar nomination. Russel Williams, however, took the distinguished Oscar twice for Best Sound. Winning in 1989 for ‘Glory’ is an American Civil War drama that stars Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman.
His second Oscar for Best Sound is for the film ‘Dances with Wolves,’ featuring Kevin Costner. Williams’ professional portfolio includes over 50 films, including ‘Training Day,’ and ‘Field of Dreams.’ He’s a professor at the American University in Washington, DC.
13. Whoopi Goldberg (1991)
Whoopi Goldberg is an award-winning actress, author, comedian, and television star. She won her first Oscar (second black actress to win) for her supporting role in Ghost. She also received a Golden Globe Award for her performance.
Whoopi Goldberg has since influenced the comedic scene, is an Emmy Award winner for Outstanding Talk Show Host and received the Mark Twain Prize.
Although winning an Oscar was an outstanding achievement, Goldberg set another record in 1993. She became the highest-paid actress of all time.
14. Denzel Washington (1989) (2002)
It’s difficult to fathom that silver screen legend Denzel Washington only has two Oscars. One has to believe there’s something seriously wrong with the Academy. Although Washington has numerous nominations (ten) and has won many other prestigious industry awards, Washington is memorable even without the notoriety.
Washington has two Academy Awards on his resume, making him the only black Oscar winner with two wins. ‘Glory’ brought him the first Best Supporting Actor, and ‘Training Day’ won him his first Best Actor Oscar in 2001.
Washington is the second black actor to receive a Golden Globe after Sidney Poitier (1963).
15. Halle Berry (2001)
Halle Berry is a breathtaking former supermodel (Revlon) and former beauty pageant contestant with bigger ambitions than a ribbon and crown.
Berry became the first black woman to steal the Oscars when she won Best Actress for her outstanding performance in Monster’s Ball.
Since her memorable Oscar win and wowing the crowd in her Oscar gown, Berry continues to impress her audiences with performances in Gothika, Swordfish, X-men, Catwoman, Jinx, a Bond girl, and her endeavors in producing and directing films.
16. Jamie Foxx (2005)
Jamie Foxx made a name for himself in the television hit show ‘In Living Color.’ He won many television, music, and film awards, including Golden Globe, Grammy Award, Screen Actors Guild, BAFTA, and others.
Foxx’s reputation as a formidable actor in his performance of ‘Ray’ catapulted him to superstardom. He became the first black actor to win for a musical. Foxx also took the Critics’ Choice Award, Golden Glove, Screen Actors Guild Award, and British Academy Film Award, sweeping the best lead actor award for the same performance.
17. Morgan Freeman (2004)
Deservedly so, Morgan won his first Oscar, as the oldest black actor to do so, for his role as Eddie, an Eastwood classic, ‘Million Dollar Baby.’
Freeman’s list of successful movies and documentaries is long. He is an outstanding actor and director and famous for his narrator’s voice. He’s been prolific in the film industry for five decades and has received many high-profile industry awards.
People remember him for his role in ‘Glory,’ Driving Miss Daisy, Shawshank Redemption, Unforgiven, and many more.
18. Forest Whitaker (2006)
If anyone can take on the role and win the Best Actor Oscar for portraying the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, it’s obviously Forest Whitaker. He won for his powerful performance in ‘The Last King of Scotland.’
Over the last four decades, Whitaker has added his talent to films like Platoon, Good Morning America, The Butler, Panic Room, and Respect.
He’s received many awards, including Golden Globe, British Academy Film, and two Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Whitaker is also a prolific humanitarian and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador.
19. Mo’Nique (2009)
It takes superior acting skills to pull off a role like that of Mary Lee Johnston in the hotly debated movie ‘Precious.’ Mo’Nique brought that role to life and exposed the audience to vast and conflicting emotions.
Mo’Nique honored Hattie McDaniel, who laid the groundwork for fellow black actors, with her first black person Oscar win in 1940. Mo’Nique is the fourth African-American woman to win the Oscar.
20. Geoffrey S. Fletcher (2009)
Geoffrey Fletcher is the first screenwriter to receive the coveted Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for the movie ‘Precious.’
Fletcher adapted Sapphire novel ‘Push’ into a critically acclaimed movie. Lee Daniels (producer of Monster’s Ball fame) reviewed Fletcher’s work, Magic Markers, and asked him to write the screenplay for Precious.
For his efforts, Fletcher became the first black Oscar winner for writing.
21. Roger Ross Williams (2010)
‘Music By Prudence’ is a powerful documentary about Zimbabwean singer Prudence. Roger Ross Williams captured her story and became the first black Oscar winner for Best Documentary Short Subject.
Based on actual events, ‘Music By Prudence,’ the documentary filmmaker follows the musical path of Prudence and her seven-member band. Each member has a disability and has to overcome ridicule, stereotypes, and the illogical association with witchcraft.
Williams won the Sundance Film Festival Directing Award and three Emmys.
22. Octavia Spencer (2012)
Some actors create a legacy for future generations, and Octavia Spencer is one of those leaders.
Winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her betrayal of Minni in the bestseller hit, ‘The Help,’ Spencer caught everyone’s attention.
Spencer is the fifth black woman actress to win this award. Spencer is also the second black woman to receive three Oscar nominations and the first to win consecutive nominations.
Her acting roles and awards resume is outstanding and includes remarkable films like ‘Hidden Figures.’ Spencer made her debut in ‘Time to Kill’ and appeared in numerous television productions and Netflix specials like ‘Madame C.J. Walker.
23. Lupita Nyong’o (2013)
’12 Years a Slave’ cleaned up at the Oscars. Lupita Nyong’o took to the stage as a teen and is now a seasoned award-winning actress. This award makes her the first Afro-Latina to earn the distinguished award.
Nyong’o received the Oscar for Best Performance in a Supporting Role in her first feature role performance on ’12 Years a Slave.’ She also earned many other eminent awards like NAACP Image Award, and two Screen Actors Guild Awards and was nominated for two Emmy and a Tony.
Besides acting in the Star Wars trilogy, The Jungle Book, and Black Panther, Nyong’o found time to write an NYT bestselling children’s book.
24. Sir Steve McQueen (2013)
McQueen became the first Black producer to win Best Motion Picture for ’12 Years A Slave.’ This award is a milestone in Oscar history.
Sir McQueen is a British director, screenwriter, producer, and video artist. Sir McQueen has a long list of awards like the BAFTA for Best Film, the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director, and the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture. He also received the Turner Prize for his visual art.
Time Magazine included Sir McQueen in its 2014 list of Most Influential People in the World.
25. John Ridley (2013)
The Academy recognized John Ridley for his screenplay adaption to round out the trifecta of ’12 Years a Slave Oscar Winners. Ridley became only the second black nominee to win.
Transforming the novel ‘Twelve Years a Slave,’ based on the narrative of Solomon Northup and written by David Wilson eight years before the Civil War. The book sold 30,000 copies.
For his adaptation, Ridley received 18 prestigious awards and five nominations. Since the Oscars, Ridley worked on American Crime, an anthology series from 2015-2017.
26. Viola Davis (2017)
Viola Davis is a striking actress who brings her presence to film and the stage. Davis is also one of only twenty-four actors who have reached the pinnacle Triple Crown of Acting, meaning she received an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Tony.
She won the Emmy for her performance in the play ‘Fences’ opposite Denzel Washington. Time Magazine ranks her as one of the most influential people, and The New York Times listed her in the top ten of best actors of the 21st Century.
Moviegoers will recognize her for her performance in ‘The Help,’ which garnered her an Oscar nomination. Davis also received a nomination for ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ on Netflix (a must-watch).
27. Tarell Alvin McCraney (2017)
The 2017 Oscar Award Ceremony will always be remembered for the biggest mix-up when La La Land supposedly won for best Best Picture.
In the end, screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney won the Oscar for ‘Moonlight.’
McCraney wrote and adapted Moonlight. He’s an up-and-coming actor, playwright, and screenwriter.
28. Barry Jenkins (2017)
This Oscar director Barry Jenkins is only the second black director to win for Best Picture. Jenkins is a prolific director and has received many awards for his work.
Despite the controversial mix-up, Jenkins won the Oscar for best Academy Award for Best Picture and best director of ‘Moonlight.’
Jenkins directed the LGBT movie and received rave reviews and many awards. Time Magazine also voted him as one of the most influential people.
29. Daniel Kaluuya (2021)
British actor Daniel Kaluuya is a rising star with a fat portfolio of achievements. His notable Oscar win for Best Supporting Actor in ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ is only one outstanding award.
Kaluuya also has a BAFTA, A Critics’ Choice, a Golden Glove, and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actor.
He’s recognizable for his two seasons on ‘Skins’ where he also co-wrote several episodes.
30. H.E.R. (2021)
H.E.R. is the revamped American R&B singer, songwriter, and musician Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson.
H.E.R. adds her win to the long list of black Oscar winners for her Best Original Song for ‘Fight for You’ from the critically acclaimed drama ‘Judas and the Black Messiah.’
As a notable talent, H.E.R. has been used to performing since a young age and has worked for Nickelodeon since age nine.
31. Ariana DeBose (2022)
West Side Story delivers another Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Afro-Latina Arian DeBose for her memorable role as Anita.
DeBose is a competitive dancer and musical performer who has received numerous nominations and awards. DeBose performed in many popular musicals, including Hamilton, Motown, and Pippin, and hosted the 75th Tony Awards.
32. Will Smith (2022)
Will Smith is a household name and famous for his many screen, television, and music roles.
In 2022, Smith became even more famous for his Best Actor Win for ‘King Richard’, his third nomination.
Smith also made the Oscar evening memorable for a less favorable performance. But those who are Smith fans have already moved on. Smith came to everyone’s notice with his television show the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
He’s since starred in many box office hits and is one of Hollywood’s most bankable actors. ‘King Richard’ is the real-life story of Richard Williams, father and tennis coach for Venus and Serena Williams.
33. Sidney Poitier (1963)
Sidney Poitier set the pace regardless of how one reads this list of African-American Oscar winners.
The Academy bestowed Poitier the first Best Actor Award in 1963 for his role in ‘Lillies in the Field.’ In 2002, the Acadamy added a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award to Poitier’s roster.
Poitier had an accomplished acting career in classics like ‘To Sir, with Love,’ ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,’ and ‘In the Heat of the Night’ (Best Picture Film).
Indeed an outstanding person, Poitier received many awards and honors.
34. Tyler Perry (2021)
Acting isn’t always defined by what happens on the stage or on film. In 2021, Tyler Perry received the Jean Hershold Humanitarian Award at the Oscars for his lasting contributions to his fellow man.
For these acts of kindness, the Academy and Viola Davis presented Perry with an award honoring his commitment to helping a long list of causes.
Tyler Perry accepted a special award for his outstanding contributions to humanitarian causes in 2021.
35. Samuel L. Jackson (2022)
Hard to believe that screen megastar Samuel L. Jackson has never won an Oscar for his 152 movie titles. He earned more box office money than any other actor. Denzel Washington had the distinct honor of bestowing an Honorary Academy Award to Jackson at the Governors Awards in Los Angeles.
Black Oscar Winners, Final Thoughts
This list of black Oscar winners is long but not long enough. These numerous icons changed the landscape of our culture. It’s challenging to rank them according to importance. Each individual on this list contributed their unique talent for the masses to enjoy.
African-American Oscar winners deserve our respect for what they endured to reach the pinnacle of their careers. They already have our admiration.