Film Forward

7 Times Women Made History At The Oscars With Their Important Wins

Here’s your lesson in female awesomeness.

The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.

Ninety years into the Academy Awards and women are still celebrating firsts. Most notably, this year's Oscars made history by naming Rachel Morrison as the first-ever female nominee in the Best Cinematography category for Mudbound.


While we don't know how things will end up, it is further proof that a push for diversity at Hollywood's biggest award show is truly necessary. After nearly a century of handing out trophies, how is it that one-half of the world's population is only now being honored by its peers? The system is broken and we need to continue embracing different points of view.

Take a trip down memory lane as we examine seven times that women had history-making wins at the Oscars. These inspiring Academy Award winners broke boundaries for those who came after them.

First Black woman to win an acting Oscar: Hattie McDaniel (1940)

In 1939, Hattie McDaniel became the first Black person nominated for an Academy Award and also became the first to win one for the role of Mammy in Gone With the Wind. Since then, we have seen numerous wins for Black actors and actresses, all thanks to the glass ceiling McDaniel shattered back in the day.

In her acceptance speech, McDaniel said this win "one of the happiest moments of my life" and added that her "heart is truly full." She added: "I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry."

First (and only) Asian woman to win an acting Oscar: Miyoshi Umeki (1957)

Miyoshi Umeki became the first woman of Asian descent to win an acting Oscar, taking home the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the role of Katsumi Kelly in Sayonara. While we have seen a few men of Asian heritage win an acting Oscar, Umeki remains the only woman to have done so. While accepting the award, Umeki admitted that she was at a lack for words but honored her Japanese heritage by wearing a traditional garb to the ceremony.

First Latina to win an acting Oscar: Rita Moreno (1962)

In 1962, Rita Moreno became the first Latina to win an acting Oscar, grabbing the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the role of Anita Palacio in West Side Story. The Puerto Rican legend — who has achieved EGOT status, by the way — had a short-and-sweet speech: "I can't believe it! Good lord. I'll leave you with that!"

First-ever (and only) Best Actress tie: Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand (1969)

We have three words for you: Ingrid Bergman's face. The Casablanca star obviously didn't expect that, upon opening the envelope to find out who won Best Actress at the 1969 Academy Awards, there would be two names. That year, Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand received 3030 votes each, both winning for their respective roles as Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter and as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, respectively.

While Hepburn wasn't there to accept the trophy, Streisand was. "Hello, gorgeous," the honorary EGOT titleholder said upon arriving at the podium, echoing the lines from the iconic film's opening line. There have been ties in other categories before and after this, but this is the sole instance it happened in the Best Actress category.

First woman producer to win the Best Picture Oscar: Julia Phillips (1974)

Would you believe that it took nearly 50 years of the Academy Awards for a female producer to win Best Picture? Well, it did. In 1974, Julia Phillips made history as the first woman to have produced a film that went on to win the top prize at the Oscars. Thanks to The Sting, Phillips shared the award with then-husband Michael Phillips and fellow producer Tony Bill. She called it "a trip" and gushed over her chance to meet Elizabeth Taylor, who presented the award.

First (and only) deaf performer to win an acting Oscar: Marlee Matlin (1987)

In 1987, Marlee Matlin became the first deaf performer to win an acting Oscar, taking home the Academy Award for Best Actress for the role of Sarah Norman in Children of a Lesser God. Via an interpreter, Matlin went down a list of thank-yous and admitted that she hadn't exactly prepared for her potential victory speech. 

While the Academy does recognize able-bodied actors for playing characters with disabilities, this is only one of two times it honored differently abled actors playing them. The other was Harold Russell, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1947 for the role of Homer Parrish in The Best Years of Our Lives.

First (and only) woman to win the directing Oscar: Kathryn Bigelow (2010)

Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the Oscar for Best Director in 2010, taking home the trophy thanks to The Hurt Locker. There had only been three nominees prior — Lina Wertmüller for Seven Beauties, Jane Campion for The Piano, Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation — and there is the fifth this year with Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird. This means that in 90 years of the Oscars, there have only been five total female director nominees and just one win thus far.

Find out if more history is made when the 90th Academy Awards air on ABC Sunday, March 4, at 8 p.m. Eastern Time.

More From A Plus


Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.