Films from the 1910s and 1920s, black characters were portrayed by white actors who wore a theatrical makeup called blackface that painted the actor’s face black. Blackface used products such as shoe polish and burnt cork as well as emphasizing features such as lips and hair to imitate the social depiction of black people at the time. Films including Hearts and Flags (1911) and Birth of a Nation (1915) were one of the first films that incorporated this stage makeup.
The 1930s and 40s marked the first time black people were offered roles in films. However, most of their roles were limited, including roles of laborers, maids, drivers, and butlers, thus still representing social perceptions of black people at the time.
The 1950s marked a significant change in the film industry, and cast more complex roles to black actors. Roles became diverse, and they were given more screen time, even sharing screen time with white actors as well. This is shown in films such as the Edge of the City (1957). They also worked on reducing stereotypical perceptions of black people. Films that consisted of a whole black cast continued to be produced thus contributing to the civil rights movement (a movement in the 1950s~1960s for black people to gain equal rights as white people) to challenge social segregation norms and racial views.
Black films continued to be produced and more diverse roles were given through the 1960s. In 1964, Sidney Poitier became the first black person to win an academy award (Best Actor). In the 1970s, blaxploitation films were produced, which confronted former stereotypes of black people and incorporated themes that were more explicit such as violence. The blaxploitation film genre signified and reflected the significance of the civil rights movement.
The rise of black films and actors continued in the 2000s. In 2002, Halle Berry became the first black woman to win an academy award. In 2009, “The Princess and the Frog'' was released, which was the first film to have a black princess. In 2017, “Moonlight” became the first Black LGBTQ+ film to win best picture, and in 2018, “Black Panther '', the first Black Marvel film was released representing more diversity in the film industry.
#OscarsSoWhite was a hashtag that trended in 2015. Since this trend, the Academy announced changes in the voting body which previously consisted of 74% male, 93% white. Adding 683 members which consisted 46% women and 41% people of color, the Academy made progress to make the voting body more diverse. With this big change, in the 2017 Academy Awards, 7 out of 20 acting nominees were from ethnic minority backgrounds, which beat the previous record of 5 and the first time in two years actors of color were nominated. Furthermore, 3 out of 9 films consisted mainly of black casts and 1 film was an Asian story, presenting that more diverse films were being recognized. The hashtag provided a significant improvement in making the film industry more diverse than it was before, though much more improvement is still yet possible.