It’s not easy to make it in Hollywood as a modern day Black woman. So we can’t even begin to fathom what it might have taken for Black women in the past to achieve the success that Ms. Hattie McDaniel did, becoming the first Black woman to win an Academy Award in 1940 for her role in Gone With the Wind.
No question, her story is one we should see on screen.
Thankfully, it’s in the works.
And according to Shadow and Act, Raven Goodwin, known for her roles in “Being Mary Jane” and The Clark Sisters: The First Ladies of Gospel will take on the role of McDaniel in a film titled Behind the Smile.
The project, produced by Jami McCoy-Lankford of Hillionaire Productions and Global Genesis Group, has yet to secure a director.
The screenplay was written by Gregory Blair.
When many of us think of McDaniel, we only think of the glitzy moment when she accepted her Oscar, a gardenia in her hair.
Rarely do we consider her fight to that position and the criticism she received from her own community after winning the award.
According to Deadline, the NAACP criticized McDaniel for taking stereotypical roles—when those were the few roles offered for Black women at the time. (In reality, the entertainment work for McDaniel was so unreliable she kept her job as a washroom attendant or maid.)
Before she transitioned to acting, McDaniel had an extensive career in radio, becoming the first Black woman to sing over the airwaves. But despite all of her record-breaking, her career was marred by racism. McDaniel was unable to attend the premiere of Gone With the Wind because it was held at a whites only theater. Even on the night of her historic win, she was at a segregated table, away from the rest of her white cast mates. The ceremony was supposed to be for whites only but McDaniel was allowed inside as a “favor.”
Even in death, she was denied access to certain spaces. Her dying wish was to be buried in Hollywood Cemetery. But the request was denied as even the plots of land were reserved for whites only.
Sadly, after she won the coveted award, McDaniel’s career was relegated to play subservient maid roles.
Speaking about Goodwin joining the film, McCoy-Lankford told Deadline, “Raven Goodwin is such a phenomenal talent and a gift to this project. In our first meeting on Zoom, she already showed the kind of passion that is befitting such a complex and iconic character as Hattie McDaniel was.”
Rick Romano, President of Global Genesis Group said, “It’s exciting to be involved in telling the story of a woman who is a part of American history as well as movie history. Now, more than ever, in a still divisive time in our country’s relationship with race, the story of Hattie McDaniel is meaningful and current. Individuals such as Hattie McDaniel were trailblazers in their struggle for equality, and their stories need to be told for our country’s understanding of inclusiveness and tolerance. We are thrilled to have Raven Goodwin play Hattie McDaniel and provide an honest look into the triumphs and tragedies of her life.”
As for the star of the film, Goodwin said, “Hattie YOU did it. Because of your legacy, we are able to write and portray OURSELVES in whatever light we choose,” Goodwin extolled. “I am forever honored. I look forward to bringing this important historical and relevant life story to the screen.”
She echoed the sentiment on her Instagram page.