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10 Oscar winners that made film history

February 24, 2024

Why "Gone with the Wind" made movie history, "Asphalt Cowboy" exorcised prudery from Hollywood, and Bong Joon-ho's "Parasite" catapulted the Oscars into the 21st century. Arts Unveiled journeys through nine decades of the Academy Awards.


Hollywood's influential Academy of motion Picture Arts and Sciences has honored hundreds of films and filmmakers since the first Oscars ceremony in 1929.

Many recipients have since fallen into obscurity, while some have changed film history.

The awards are lauded as a cultural zeitgeist, sparking debate and driving social change.

Arts 21 presents 10 formative Oscar winners, exploring their historical significance and their impact on contemporary culture.

Vivien Leigh and Hattie McDaniel in "Gone with the Wind"
Vivien Leigh (left) and Hattie McDaniel in starred in the 1939 classic 'Gone with the Wind'Image: akg-images/picture-alliance

While the 1939 antebellum drama "Gone with the Wind" is heavily criticized for its sanitized portrayal of slavery and racial discrimination, it also marked a milestone in film history: Hattie McDaniel was the first African American actor to receive an Oscar for her performance in 1940, thus paving the way for numerous Black actors in Hollywood.

And yet, for decades to come, the Oscars remained primarily the domain of Hollywood's elite "inner circle" — white, self-absorbed men.

Director and Oscar winner Barry Jenkins
Director Barry Jenkins won an Oscar for his 2016 film 'Moonlight'Image: Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP/picture alliance

Barry Jenkins broke through that glass ceiling when his film "Moonlight" won the Oscar for best picture in 2017. This coming-of-age story centering around a gay, Black lead was hailed by many as a film that ushered in a new era of African American film in Hollywood.

But, of course, Hollywood and the Academy could still do a lot more to support diversity in cinema. Ethnic minorities and women remain grossly underrepresented.

Director and Oscar winner  Kathryn Bigelow
Director and Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow was recognized in 2010Image: Mark J. Terrill/AP/picture alliance

It's hard to believe Kathryn Bigelow was the first woman to ever win an Oscar for best director in 2010. Her award for the war drama "Hurt Locker" further bolstered discussions surrounding greater gender equity in film production.

Are the Oscars a reflection of society?

Arts.21 on 10 films that not only entertained audiences, but changed cinema — and, arguably, the world.

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Arts Unveiled — Experiencing and understanding the art world

Arts Unveiled dives deep into the international creative scene, uncovering new ideas and explaining cultural phenomena that shape our history, present and future. Who are the artists? What are their greatest works of art? And how are they having an impact? Where can we find their exciting projects?