Hattie McDaniel was the first person nominated for an Oscar for playing a Black person. The third was Ethel Waters for playing the illiterate grandmother and domestic down South in 1949's PINKY, a race drama directed by Elia Kazan. The second person to get an Oscar nomination for playing a Black person was a white British actress named Flora Robson. Robson had played Queen Elizabeth in two historical dramas and she played the sad, old housekeeper who tells us the tragic love story of 1939's WUTHERING HEIGHTS. Warner Bros. covered Robson with dark make-up and slapped a pair of hoop earrings on her to have her play the stern Haitian maid to Ingrid Bergman's character in the romantic costume drama, SARATOGA TRUNK, a 1945 film co-starring Gary Cooper.
The way Willmott skewers modern-day racism is hilarious, politically incorrect and probably more relevant today than when it was released in 2004. I watched it then contacted Willmott via email. I introduced myself, told him I worked on-air with Whoopi Goldberg and wanted to pitch him enthusiastically to her. I wanted her to do a phone interview with him about C.S.A.: THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA if he was interested. He absolutely was. I pitched him to Whoopi. I'd given her a DVD of the mockumentary. Unfortunately and surprisingly, she was not interested. I stressed that I felt Willmott would move on to even bigger work. Whoopi just wasn't interested. I got back to Kevin Willmott with the disappointing news. He was extremely gracious to me for pitching him. A real gent, that Kevin Willmott. And a real talent. He did, indeed, move on to even bigger work.
Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee won Oscars for their adapted screenplay to 2018's BlacKkKlansman. The film was a nominee for Best Picture.
This week came the news that Kevin Willmott is at work on a screenplay for a biopic on the late tennis great, Arthur Ashe. Ashe won the U.S. Open during the racially turbulent Civil Rights era of the 1960s. He was an activist for Civil Rights and AIDS awareness. He succumbed to AIDS-related pneumonia in 1993. He'd retired from tennis in 1980. The film has the full support of the Arthur Ashe estate. Bravo, Kevin Willmott!