Lasting Impact: 6 Oscar-Winning Women Who Changed TV And Film Forever

Oscars Black women

Angela Bassett accepts an honorary Oscar onstage during the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ 14th Annual Governors Awards at The Ray Dolby Ballroom on January 09, 2024 in Hollywood, California. Photo by Kevin Winter via Getty Images


Mar. 8 2024, Published 3:47 p.m. ET

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The 2024 Academy Awards is upon us, and history may be made again with more Oscar-winning women. Though the Academy Awards is still falling virtue to #OscarsSoWhite, there have been slight improvements in diversity, notably Michelle Yeoh’s 2023 win for Best Actress. Plus, a slew of nominations, including Angela Bassett for Best Supporting Actress in 2022 and Aunjanue Ellis for Best Supporting Actress in 2021. 

None of these wins, though, are possible without the contributions and grit of actresses prior. The Golden Age of Hollywood was booming with film opportunities for everyone but Black women and women of color. Despite these barriers, actresses Hattie McDaniel, Rita Moreno, and others persevered and became household legends in Hollywood and elsewhere. These Oscar-winning women have paved the way for up-and-coming actresses to receive recognition for their talent and access the same opportunities as their white colleagues. The 96th Academy Awards could give us the first Native American, Lily Gladstone, to win Best Actress. Even if Gladstone wins or loses, her nomination shows how far Hollywood has come. 

Below, we’ve rounded up the most impactful women Oscar-winning women and how their wins shaped film and TV for the better.

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Hattie McDaniel, Best Supporting Actress At The 12th Academy Awards

///Actress Hattie Mc Daniel is shown with the statuette she received for her portrayal in Gone With Th x
Source: Bettmann/Bettmann via Getty Images

3/2/1940- Los Angeles, CA: Actress Hattie Mc Daniel is shown with the statuette she received for her portrayal in “Gone With The Wind.

Hattie McDaniel is the first Black person to win an Oscar. In 1940, she won the title of Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mammy in “Gone with the Wind.” Though the win was legendary, Hattie’s career never reached that level of success again. Her next notable gig came seven years later, with the radio program “The Beulah Show.”

In 1952, Hattie passed away from breast cancer. She was buried in Rosedale Cemetery. Her Oscar plaque was given to Howard University at her behest and remains lost. Despite her complicated relationship with Hollywood, Hattie remains a historical figure for Black creatives, that amongst segregation and racism, she broke racial barriers.

Halle Berry, Best Actress At The 74th Academy Awards

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Source: Vinnie Zuffante/Halle Berry collection via Getty Images.

American actress Halle Berry in the press room of the 3rd Annual Blockbuster Entertainment Awards, held at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles, California, 11th March 1997.

There are only 10 Black women to win an Oscar, and only one Black woman has won Best Actress, per Mashable. Halle Berry joined the group of Oscar-winning women in 2002 with her Best Actress win for her role in “Monster’s Ball.” In her acceptance speech, Halle thanked the women of color before her, who paved the way for Black actresses in Hollywood.

“This moment is so much bigger than me,” Halle said. “This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It’s for the women that stand beside me, Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, [and] Vivica Fox. And it’s for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight now has been opened.”

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While her win is an iconic moment in pop culture — her stunning Oscar dress is on display at the Academy Museum — it didn’t open the door for women actresses of color but slightly cracked it. The next Black woman to win an Oscar after Halle was Jennifer Hudson in 2006, for her role as Effie White in “Dreamgirls.”

Ruth E. Carter, Best Costume Design At The 91st And 95th Academy Awards

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Source: Gilbert Flores/Variety via Getty Images.

Ruth E. Carter at the premiere of “The Color Purple” held at The Academy Museum on Dec. 6, 2023, in Los Angeles, California.

With all the glitz and glamor at the Oscars, sometimes we forget about the other non-acting categories. For example, the Best Film Editing or Best Costume Design. Costume designer Ruth E. Carter has made history time and time again, being the first African American to receive a nomination for Best Costume Design and the only African American to win Best Costume Design.

Ruth’s career spans over 40 years, starting with her nomination in 1992 for Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X,” and her eventual two-time win for Best Costume Design for “Black Panther” in 2019 and its sequel, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” in 2023. She’s not an actress, but Ruth has made an impact on the film industry, notably the costume design world where it’s only been majority white and male. 

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“Finally the door is wide open, and I’ve been struggling and digging deep and mentoring and doing whatever I could to raise others up,” Ruth said after receiving her Oscar in 2019 via IndieWire.“And I hope through my example, this means that there is hope and other people can come on in and win an Oscar just like I did.”

Rita Moreno, Best Supporting Actress At The 34th Academy Awards

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Rita Moreno speaks onstage during the 74th Annual Directors Guild of America Awards at The Beverly Hilton on March 12, 2022, in Beverly Hills, California. Photo by Kevin Winter via Getty Images.

According to The New York TimesRita Moreno wasn’t going to show at the 1962 Oscars. She, a Puerto Rican from the Bronx, didn’t even think “West Side Story” would intrigue viewers. But it broke the box office and won 10 Oscars, including Best Supporting Actress. Known as the first Latina to win an Oscar, Rita’s career met a similar path to Hattie’s, as she couldn’t find work despite making history. 

“After ‘West Side Story,’ I couldn’t find work,” she said, per The New York Times. “All the Latina roles in films were so perfunctory. And I said, ‘I’m not going to do that stuff anymore with the accents.’”

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Rita’s refusal to play stereotypical roles helped her — and other Latina women — in the long run. She has achieved EGOT status — Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards — one of the few women and women of color to do so. Latina actresses such as Gina Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez have thanked the EGOT winner for her contributions to film, noting that her work during Hollywood’s Golden Age inspired them to pursue meaningful careers in film and TV.

Michelle Yeoh, Best Actress At The 95th Academy Awards

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK – Michelle Yeoh attends the National Board of Review 2023 Awards Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street on Jan. 08, 2023, in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for National Board of Review)

Michelle Yeoh was owed her flowers years ago, but we’re glad that the Academy has finally given them to her. The second woman of color and the first Asian woman to win Best Actress, Michelle took home the golden-plated statue in 2023 for her leading role in “Everything, Everything All at Once.” Before she reached the masses in Hollywood, Yeoh got her start in Hong Kong’s film industry, starring in “Police Story 3: Super Cop” and “Yes, Madam” before scoring her first Hollywood film, “Tomorrow Never Dies” in 1997, per Voice of America

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Michelle’s resume has only gotten longer in her nearly 40-year debut, racking up box office hits from “Crazy Rich Asians” to “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” Her 2023 Oscar win is indicative that America’s film and TV industry is catching up to the multitude of talent in the Asian acting community and that you are never too old to see your dreams come true. 

Lupita Nyong’o, Best Supporting Actress At The 86th Academy Awards

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MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – Lupita Nyong’o speaks during the “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” Red Carpet in Mexico City at Plaza Satelite on Nov. 09, 2022 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Agustin Cuevas/Getty Images for Disney)

It takes many actors and actresses years before they get their first Oscar. Not Lupita Nyong’o, though. The Kenyan actress had a few acting credits in her filmography before her Best Supporting Actress win in 2014. But that shows her prowess and talent and how her performance in “12 Years of Slave” moved critics and viewers alike. In her acceptance speech, which moved everyone, including Benedict Cumberbatch, to tears, Lupita gave a special message to children everywhere.

“When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every child, no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid,” Lupita stated.

Of course, this is not an all-encompassed list of the best Oscar-winning women. However, this shows how many Oscar-winning women have changed the game. We hope that this upcoming award season makes the history books.

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