Starlets, Unsung: 7 Stories Of Lesser Known Black Women

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Nina Mae McKinney

The Vintage Vixen Nina Mae McKinney, known as the “The Black Garbo,” debuted on Broadway, dancing in a chorus line for the musical Blackbirds of 1928. It was there that she was discovered by MGM film director King Vidor. Smitten with McKinney, he cast her as one of the lead in his 1929 film, Hallelujah, making her the first African American woman to attain a main role in a mainstream movie. The fame that she achieved with Halleljah helped her to secure a five-year contract with MGM studios, establishing her as the first African American, ever, to secure a contract with a major studio. After appearing in a number of Hollywood movies, including a few with all Black castings, she left for Europe because of racism. She performed in Paris and England, and later retired to Greece after the war. During the spring of 1967 McKinney suffered a fatal heart attack.

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