On a Possible Hattie McDaniel Biopic, Her Missing Oscar and Telling "Mammy’s" Story
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Awards , Film

On a Possible Hattie McDaniel Biopic, Her Missing Oscar and Telling "Mammy’s" Story

Hattie McDaniel
Hattie McDaniel

In 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to win an Oscar for her role as Mammy in “Gone with the Wind.” She made more than 70 films throughout her career, and died on October 26, 1952, in Los Angeles, California.

A film based on her life has long been in the air, with Mo’Nique first revealing in 2010 that she owns the rights to McDaniel’s life story, and she planned to star in the biopic. Recall that, at the time, she said she wanted Lee Daniels to direct it. However, as of today, it doesn’t look like much progress has been made since the initial announcement 6 years ago. In fact, the project isn’t even listed on Mo’Nique’s IMDBPro page. So it’s one of those that’s in Limbo, and may just be dead… for now. If Mo’Nique still owns McDaniel’s life story rights (and continues to do so), there’s a chance that she ultimately may not star in the film (whenever it’s made), but may produce with another actress playing McDaniel.

There was a documentary on McDaniel’s life and career, directed by Madison D. Lacy and released in 2001. Titled “Beyond Tara: The Extraordinary Life of Hattie McDaniel,” the film was made for TV and aired on AMC. Hosted and narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, the second black actress to receive an Oscar, the hour-long program examines McDaniel’s stardom, her civil rights activism and her death, along with her exclusion from the Hollywood Forever cemetery because of her race.

Unfortunately, the documentary doesn’t appear to be available on any home video format.

Three years ago, almost 80 years after the publication of Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling novel “Gone With The Wind,” it was announced that the character we all know as Mammy, as played by McDaniel in the film adaptation, would finally get her own back story – although in book form… at least for the time being.

Simon & Schuster imprint Atria published “Ruth’s Journey: The Story of Mammy from Gone with the Wind,” a fictional telling of the life of one of the original novel’s central characters – Mammy, who otherwise remains nameless. The book hit bookstores (off- and online) in 2014.

Donald McCaig, the award-winning author of the Civil War-set “Jacob’s Ladder,” and who was also chosen by the Margaret Mitchell estate to write “Rhett Butler’s People,” the authorized sequel to “Gone With the Wind,” is the author of “Ruth’s Journey.”

This prequel, which was also authorized by Mitchell’s estate, tracks Scarlett O’Hara’s no-nonsense maid’s life from her birthplace – the French colony of Saint-Domingue, now known as Haiti – to Savannah, GA. in the early 19th century.

“Mammy is one of the truly powerful figures in the book and movie and, oddly enough, one of the figures nobody tends to think much about,” said McCaig in a press statement 3 years ago. “When people say what is ‘Gone With the Wind’ about, they say it’s a love story between Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara. But Mammy is almost a third party.”

He added: “I was interested in how an African American slave could play such a tremendously important part in a well-to-do white family. I wondered where she came from, had she ever been in love, had she had a child.”

The new 416-page novel also tackles criticisms Margaret Mitchell faced over her novel, including her romanticizing of antebellum life, as well as the one-dimensional depictions of black characters in her original novel, starting, of course, with Mammy, who was immortalized on film in 1939 by Hattie McDaniel, in a performance that saw her become the first black actor/actress to win an Academy Award.

The first two-thirds of “Ruth’s Journey” are written in the 3rd person, and the last third in Ruth’s own tongue, which author McCaig said, “was tremendously risky. But I think it’s the best part of the book.”

Of course, with McCaig being a 70-something-year-old white man, his quest to “give Mammy a voice” and tell her story was met with concern and criticism for what should be obvious reasons.

A question that immediately came to mind when the book was announced, was whether a film adaptation would also follow – especially as movies set during that particular era, were seemingly in favor at the time. An announcement of one certainly wouldn’t at all be a surprise.

Finally, did you know that, in the history of the Academy Awards, more than a few Oscars statuettes have either gone missing or were stolen?

Fifty-five Oscars disappeared from a Los Angeles loading dock just days before the ceremony in 2000. All but two were recovered.

In 1938, an unidentified man jumped onstage to accept an award on behalf of Best Supporting Actress winner Alice Brady, who was too ill to attend. The man was never seen again — and neither was Brady’s award.

In 2002, UPS lost Whoopi Goldberg’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar when it was sent out for cleaning. It was later found in a trash can.

And then there’s the case of Hattie McDaniel, and her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Mammy in “Gone With the Wind” – an award that has been missing for decades! In the audio report below, NPR investigates… “The Curious Case Of Hattie McDaniel’s Missing Oscar. It’s a fascinating and still mostly-unknown story that we’ve shared a few times in past several years, so some of you have already heard it; but there are always those for whom it’s new:

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