In 1983, I was sitting next to my son and my agent who had been [representing me] for 17 years. I was in the front row and I thought that the night would end the way it always had with the Oscars: those actors that were dying or it was their last shot were gonna get the Oscar for “Best Supporting Actor.” To my left was James Mason who had done The Verdict. That was his last movie. On my right was Robert Preston for his last movie, Victor Victoria. So I had made my mind up that I was so grateful to be in the top five and went into a lethargy.
I don’t even remember my name being said, but when it was called my agent hit me in the chest and said, “They said your name!” I hadn’t prepared a speech and I walked up and shook Christopher Reeve’s hand and got a hug and a kiss from Susan Sarandon.
I started to talk about the people who helped me in my life—my great-grandmama, my cousin and finally I said to the other four actors [up for the award], “This is ours.” And that thought process made it possible to add these young beautiful actors. In their minds that they too can win an Oscar. The Denzels, the Halle Barrys, Morgan Freemans, Cuba Goodings…it opened up a possibility that all young African-American men and women can go for the gold. And as a result, there’s a trail of wonderful African-American actors in television and movies to win the Oscars.
— As told to Shantell E. Jamison
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