The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) annually salutes actors and films “of merit”. The nominees and winners of these awards are selected and voted on by members of AMPAS. Members are also nominated and selected by the Executive Boards and must have made a significant contribution to the field of motion pictures. Membership eligibility is reviewed on an annual basis. The Oscars are the oldest set of awards in media beginning in 1929. The ceremony originally started at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel is now broadcast in over 100 countries.
AMPAS was originally conceived by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio boss Louis B. Mayer as a professional honorary organization to help improve the film industry’s image and help mediate labor disputes. The Oscar itself was later initiated by the Academy as an award “of merit for distinctive achievement” in the industry.
The Oscar, as offically nicknamed by the Academy in 1939, is one of 10 types of awards presented. The Special Achievement Award and the Honorary Award however are not presented annually and are selected by a special committee.
The Irving G. Thalberg Memorical Award has been presented 39 times to date and is given to “Creative producers, whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production.” An African American has not yet been given this award. Irving Thalberg, as Head of the Production Divsion of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, was integral in building the company’s reputation for superior films.
The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award is given in recognition of an individual’s significan humanitarian contributions. The award is voted on only by the Board of Governors of AMPAS. It has been presented 34 times and is named after Jean Hersholt who served as President of the Motion Picture Relief fund for 18 years. In 1995 at the 67th Annual Awards Ceremony, Quincy Jones was the first African American honored with this award.
The Scientific and Technical Awards Committee is responsible for the John A. Bonner Medal of Commendation, the Gordon E. Sawyer Award and the Scientific Achievements Awards. Scientific and technical achievement is awarded on three levels: Technical Achievement Award (certificate), Scientific and Engineering Award (bronze tablet) and Academy Award of Merit (Oscar statuette). The Gordon E. Sawyer Award has been presented annually since 1981 to “an individual in the motion picture industry whose technological contributions have brought credit to the industry.” As a 3-time Academy Award winner in Sound, Gordon E. Sawyer saw the Academy Awards as a historical record of the progress of motion pictures. This award recipient is nonminated and elected by the Scientific and Technical Awards Committee and has yet to have an African American awardee. The Scientfic and Technical Awards are presented at an annual dinner prior to the televised Academy Awards Ceremony.
Oscar Award Winners and Nominees
- Hattie McDaniel – 1940 Best Supporting Actor
- Dorothy Jean Dandridge – 1955 Best Actor nomination
- Sidney Poitier – 1963 Best Actor
- Beau Richards – 1967 Best Supporting Actor nomination
- Isaac Lee Hayes – 1971 Best Original Song
- Paul Edward Winfield – 1973 Best Actor nomination
- Alfre Ette Woodard – 1983 Best Supporting Actor nomination
- Charles Henry Fuller – 1984 Writing nomination
- Prince – 1984 Best Original Song Score
- Whoopi Goldberg – 1985 Best Actor
- Lionel Richie – 1985 Best Original Song
- Oprah Winfrey – 1985 Best Supporting Actor nomination
- Dexter Keith Gordon – 1987 Best Actor nomination
- Denzel Washington – 1987 Best Supporting Actor
- Spike Lee – 1997 Best Documentary
- Halle Berry – 2001 Best Actor
- Queen Latifah – 2002 Best Supporting Actor nomination
- Jamie Foxx – 2004 Best Actor
- Jennifer Hudson – 2006 Best Supporting Actor
- Forest Steven Whitaker – 2006 Best Actor
- Viola Davis – 2008 Best Supporting Actor nomination