This Day In History: March 24, 2002

March 24, 2002 Halle Berry, Denzel Washington triumph at Oscars

On this day in 2002, the 74th annual Academy Awards ceremony is held at its brand new venue, the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. Completed the previous November, the $94 million Kodak Theatre would be the first permanent home for the Academy Awards ceremony.

At the first Oscar ceremony since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the mood was relatively subdued, and security was tighter than ever. That year’s Oscar race had been seen as particularly close, with a number of high-profile films in the running for Best Picture: besides the front-runner, Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind, many were predicting wins for the musical Moulin Rouge or The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the first installment of Peter Jackson’s big-screen adaptation of the popular J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy. Two sleeper picks, Robert Altman’s ensemble murder mystery Gosford Park and Todd Field’s In the Bedroom, rounded out the Best Picture category.

Before Best Picture was announced, however, the Oscars made history, when Halle Berry was presented with the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as the wife of a death row inmate in Monster’s Ball. Berry was the first African-American performer to win in the Best Actress category and only the second African-American actress ever to be honored by the Academy (the first was Hattie McDaniel, who won for her supporting role in 1939’s Gone With the Wind). As an emotional Berry clutched her Oscar, she tearfully called the moment “so much bigger than me” and declared that “the door had been opened” for actresses of color.

On the heels of Berry’s historic win, Denzel Washington became only the second African-American man to win in the Best Actor category, accepting the statuette for his role as a corrupt Los Angeles police officer in Training Day. It was the first time that African-American performers had taken home both of the year’s top acting awards. Sidney Poitier, the first black Best Actor winner (for 1964’s Lilies of the Field ) received an honorary Oscar that night as well.

In another Oscar first, the animated film Shrek, produced by Dreamworks SKG (a studio formed in 1999 by Hollywood heavyweights Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen), won the first-ever Academy Award given in a brand new category: Best Animated Feature Film. With Mike Myers voicing the titular character, a lovable green ogre, and Cameron Diaz voicing his adored Princess Fiona, Shrek beat out the two other entrants in its category, Monsters, Inc. and Jimmy Neutron.

The night ended with Howard taking home the Oscar for Best Director and A Beautiful Mind winning Best Picture.

D. K. Smith

D. K. Smith

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