BY AMANDA MOSES
Black History Month is an annual commemoration of the achievements made by African-Americans throughout history. Celebrated from February 1st to February 29th, this tribute was first deemed a weeklong remembrance entitled “Negro History Week” in 1926. It was initially developed by historian Carter G. Woodson and Minister Jesse E. Moorland, who founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). It wasn’t until 1976 when President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month as a nationwide commemorative period to honor the accomplishments of Black Americans.
In light of this month-long celebration, the Spring Creek Sun compiled a list of entertainers whose work has helped shine a light on social stigmas, racial barriers, political issues, and other injustices in the United States.
Oscar Micheaux (January 2, 1884 – March 25, 1951) was the first African-American to make a film. As a young boy, he wrote stories and when he was old enough he formed his own publishing company, so that he can distribute his books door to door. As silent films became popular in the late 1800s (and continuing to 1929), Micheaux wanted to venture into a new storytelling medium. He created a movie production company in 1919 where he directed, wrote, and produced silent films starring African-American actors. He filmed and directed, The Exile, Homesteader starring Evelyn Preer (this cinematic feature was based on his novel of the same namesake), and 42 other films. He was the first African-American to have his film played in all “white” movie theaters and wrote over seven novels.
Joséphine Baker (June 3, 1906 – April 12, 1975) was the first black woman to star in a major motion picture. The film, Zouzou was released in 1934, and told the story of two circus child actors Zouzou (Baker) and Jean (Jean Gabin) searching for fame and love. Baker was known for not performing to segregated audiences and helping raise awareness for the Civil Rights Movement.
Dorothy Dandridge (November 9, 1922-September 8, 1965) was an actress, singer, and dancer who became the first black woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1954 for the film, Carmen Jones. She was also the first black woman to be featured on the cover of Life Magazine.
Cicely Tyson (born on December 19, 1933) is the first African-American actress to receive an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress for her performance in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974). She is also a former fashion model whose career has spanned over seven decades; earning her several accolades including a Tony Award for The Trip to Bountiful in 2013 (she became the oldest actress to ever receive this award).
Halle Berry (born on August 14, 1966) is the first and only African-American woman to win the Academy Award for Best Actress (from her film, Monster’s Ball) in 2002. Her widely noted Oscar speech was dedicated “for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.”
Ava DuVernay (born on August 24, 1972) is a writer, director, producer, and film distributor, who became the first black woman to win a director award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival for Middle of Nowhere. She directed Selma, based on Martin Luther King Jr.’s non-violent march from Selma to Montgomery, a criminal justice documentary entitled, 13th which explored the racial inequality for incarcerated individuals in the United States, and A Wrinkle in Time (this film bestowed upon her the title of highest grossing black female director in US box office history).