Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
A performer widely regarded as one of the most distinguished and eloquent actors of his or any generation, Ossie Davis combined an overwhelming amount of dramatic talent and instinct (evident via both stage and film work) with an indomitable fervor for social crusade. A native of Cogdell, GA, and a graduate of Howard University, Davis moved to Harlem at an early stage and trained with the Rose McClendon players. The actor then drew a considerable amount of attention -- alongside wife since 1948 Ruby Dee -- for helping to spearhead the American civil rights movement in the 1940s, over 20 years before it caught fire with the general public and mass media. Their combined efforts culminated in involvement with the triumphant March on Washington of August 1963, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech. In subsequent years, Davis also helped Dr. King raise money for the Freedom Riders and delivered a poignant eulogy at the funeral of Malcolm X.
Meanwhile, Davis and Dee both established themselves as forces in theater and on film. Davis himself debuted on Broadway in 1946, and took his film bow with the 1950 No Way Out, but 13 years passed before his sophomore cinematic effort, the 1963 Gone Are the Days -- an adaptation of his own play Purlie Victorious. Unfortunately, the actor spent much of the '60s appearing in programmers that were either underappreciated (Shock Treatment, 1964) or unworthy of his talents (Sam Whiskey, 1969), and didn't fully realize his potential until he scripted and directed the 1970 Cotton Comes to Harlem, a gritty crime comedy (with a predominantly African-American cast including Godfrey Cambridge and Redd Foxx) that almost singlehandedly jump-started the blaxploitation movement and predated Sweet Sweetback and Shaft by a year. Several additional directorial projects followed throughout the 1970s and '80s and found Davis growing deeper and more profound, and setting his sights higher; these included the ambitious -- if not quite successful -- Kongi's Harvest (1971) and the finely-wrought, socially charged coming-of-age drama Black Girl (1972), arguably Davis' best film.