Mammy to Minnie: Black Women Oscar Winners

Academy Award hasn't always meant bigger and better roles for black women.

ByABC News
February 27, 2012, 1:22 PM

Feb. 28, 2012— -- intro: After Octavia Spencer won the Academy Award for best supporting actress, Jennifer Hudson, who won the same award in 2006, was first to welcome her into the very exclusive club of black women Oscar winners.

"Yes!!!! Welcome to the family Octavia!! Congrats!!! Amazing!!" she tweeted Sunday night.

Like all families, this one comes with baggage. For most Oscar winners, an Academy Award is a boon to their careers, both in terms of roles and earning power. For black women, the road after Oscar seems to be less certain.

"The reality is there aren't enough good roles for black women, let alone plus sized ones," Village Voice columnist Michael Musto told

Just look at Mo'Nique, who won the same award in 2010 for "Precious." She only recently signed onto her next feature after her BET talk show was cancelled. Then, there's her co-star Gabourey Sidibe, who was nominated for a best actress Oscar. After a couple of small film roles, Sidibe is now a regular on the Showtime series "The Big C" with Laura Linney.

Spencer, who became only the sixth black woman to win an Oscar, has more acting chops than both and should fare better.

"Octavia has already shown her range in both drama and wacky comedy, so she should do fine in a variety of character parts that show off her talent. In addition to films, there's also TV (which Octavia's already done and can shine in again)," Musto said.

"She got mad talent, not only on the screen, big and small, but her interpersonal skills and circle of friends are very strong," Yahoo! Movies contributing editor Thelma Adams told "She is such a human magnet for positivity that things are going to coalesce for her."

Adams could see Spencer starring in her own TV series, doing a Tyler Perry film, getting a meaty role in a mainstream movie as well as playing "a lot of best friends."

The leap to leading lady won't be easy, however.

"It's not just a black woman issue," Adams said. "It's a woman who wants to play a leading role issue. Look at Melissa Leo. She is still looking for that breakout starring role. The only way to change that is for women to produce, write and direct more films with women. The success of "Bridesmaids" is a sign that it is changing."

Perhaps that's why Spencer and her "Help" co-star Viola Davis, who lost the best actress award to Meryl Streep, have expressed their desire to begin producing.

"I don't have one role that I want to play," Spencer told reporters backstage after her win. "I guess you know what, I want to be a producer. I want to be an activist. I want to be proactive in bringing about work for men, women, boys, girls, everybody who is good at what they do and deserve a shot at it. So I think my role, I want to have a presence both behind the scenes and in front of the camera. So I can't say on one particular thing, so I'll just name them all. I'll be the jack of all trades and hopefully decent at one of them."

"If I am not the instrument of change, I can meander through this business and be the black woman who always has two or three scenes but with fabulous actors around me," Davis told the Los Angeles Times earlier this month.

"And hopefully things will keep improving for black women in show biz," Musto said. "Lord knows, Minny is a long way forward from Mammy in Gone With The Wind!"

Click through to see how Hattie McDaniel of "Gone with the Wind" and the other black women Oscar winners have fared.

quicklist: 1category: title: Hattie McDanielurl: text: Hattie McDaniel made history as the first black woman to win an Oscar for playing Mammy in "Gone With the Wind." But she would spend the rest of her career essentially reprising her role as a maid before landing the lead role in the ABC comedy series "Beulah." Still, she would be criticized by members of the black community for perpetuating stereotypes. In the end, McDaniel died alone and in debt at age 57, leaving her Oscar to Howard University. Years later, Mo'Nique paid tribute to McDaniel in her acceptance 15802538

quicklist: 2category: title: Whoopi Goldbergurl: text: As a comedic actress, Whoopi Goldberg appears to have fared better than most of the other black women Oscar winners. Besides winning an Oscar for her 1991 role in "Ghost," she's won an Emmy, Grammy and Tony awards. Even so, in 2007, Goldberg announced she was retiring from acting because she was no longer receiving scripts. But her role as a co-host on "The View" has earned her new fans. media: 15802687

quicklist: 3category: title: Halle Berry url: text: These days, Halle Berry is generating more headlines for her personal life than her acting. Since becoming the first black actress to win an Oscar for the 2001 film "Monster's Ball," Berry has played Catwoman, a Bond girl and an X-Men. Her most critically acclaimed role since her Oscar win was playing a woman with multiple personalities in 2010's "Frankie and Alice." But the film had only limited release and gained little traction during awards 15802699

quicklist: 4category: title: Jennifer Hudsonurl: text: After becoming the youngest black actor to ever win an Oscar, Jennifer Hudson took supporting roles "Sex and the City" and "The Secret Life of Bees." But she turned down the lead role in "Precious." After putting on the pounds for "Dreamgirls," Hudson said in her book, "I Got This: How I Changed My Ways and Lost What Weighed Me Down," that she was committed to getting fit and "wanted try a role that had nothing whatsoever to do with my weight." Hudson finally made the leap to leading lady in the 2011 biopic "Winnie" about Winnie Mandela, but the movie, which has been plagued with problems, has yet to find a U.S. 15802640

quicklist: 5category: title: Mo'Niqueurl: text: After winning the best supporting actress Oscar in 2010 for her role as an abusive mother in "Precious," Mo'Nique told reporters backstage she didn't expect the award to change her life. "You know, this role was so not about my acting career. This role has shaped my life and allowed me not to judge and to love unconditionally. If that goes into my career, great, but if it doesn't and I'm just the dynamic person that I strive to be every day, then I've won, baby!" she said.

In a way, the Oscar hasn't changed her life. The comedian focused her energy on hosting BET's "The Mo'Nique Show," only to see it cancelled the following year. She recently signed on to her first feature -- two years after winning the Oscar. She's slated to play one of five strangers whose lives are changed during a long layover at Chicago's O'Hare Airport in "Bumped." media: 15802594