Geena Davis and David Lynch to receive honorary Oscars

In another show of increasing diversity for all things Oscar, actors Wes Studi and Geena Davis and directors David Lynch and Lina Wertmuller are the winners of the 11th Annual Governors Awards. The honors, as voted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Board of Governors in a special Saturday session, were announced today.

Native American actor Studi, four-time Oscar nominee Lynch, and two time Oscar nominee Wertmuller will receive Honorary Oscars for career achievements, while Davis, a past Oscar winner for Supporting Actress in 1988’s “The Accidental Touristas” well as a 1991 Best Actress nominee for “Thelma And Louise,” will receive The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. The board met three months earlier than usual to choose the Governors Awards recipients, as I exclusively reported on Friday,  and the ceremony itself will be three weeks earlier (Sunday, October 27) than its usual mid-November date at the Roy Dolby Ballroom.

Studi has appeared in numerous film and TV series including “Dances With Wolves,” “Last Of The Mohicans,” “Geronimo: An American Legend,” “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee,” “The New World,” “Heat,” “Avatar,” and more recently “Hostiles” and “A Dog Way’s Home.” Studi, an activist of Cherokee descent, becomes the first Native American actor to receive an Oscar and it is a well-deserved one, obviously a long time coming for the Native American community. Graham Greene in “Dances With Wolves” (1990), and Chief Dan George in 1970’s “Little Big Man” are the only previous acting award nominees. Buffy Sainte-Marie shared an Original Song Oscar for “Up Where We Belong” from 1982’s “An Officer And A Gentlemen.” Of course American Indian grievances were famously expressed at the Oscar ceremony in 1973 when Marlon Brando sent Sacheen Littlefeather to turn down his Best Actor win for “The Godfather.” Wearing traditional garb, Littlefeather delivered a polite but blistering speech about Hollywood’s treatment of Native Americans.

Italy’s Wertmuller, 90, made history by becoming the first woman ever nominated for the Best Director Oscar for 1975’s “Seven Beauties,” which was also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Screenplay. Her career really soared in the 1970s with such films as “Swept Away,” “Love & Anarchy,” “The Seduction Of Mimi,” “A Night Full Of Rain,” and “Blood Feud” which starred Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. Her selection is not a huge surprise since AMPAS has been trying to emphasize support for women in its ranks in recent years, as well as the international scope of the organization,  and, I understand, her name has often come up for consideration. Ironically Harvey Weinstein, since kicked out of the Academy, was one of her biggest boosters in previous years.

Lynch is a four-time Oscar nominee with three of those nominations coming in the Best Director category including “The Elephant Man” (1980), “Blue Velvet” (1986), and “Mulholland Dr.” (2001). He was also a nominee in the adapted screenplay category for “Elephant Man.” The iconic and multi-faceted filmmaker’s credits also include “Eraserhead,” “The Straight Story,” “Wild At Heart,” “Dune” and of course the TV Series “Twin Peaks,” which he rebooted for Showtime last year. His selection isn’t a shocker since he likely had support from current board members with whom he has worked. Actors branch Governor Laura Dern in fact has starred in numerous Lynch projects.

Davis will receive her second Oscar, this time as recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. She is the founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, a nonprofit dedicated to educating and influencing film and television content creators to eliminate gender bias and stereotypes and create a wide variety of female characters in entertainment and media aimed at children.

Davis was appointed Special Envoy for Women and Girls in Information and Communication Technologies for the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union in 2012, and served as chair of the California Commission on the Status of Women. In 2015, she launched the Bentonville Film Festival to support women and diversity in the entertainment industry. This year she is also an Executive Producer for the documentary about sexism in the film industry called “This Changes Everything.”

Each year there is lots of debate over who should receive these Honorary Oscars, as well as the Hersholt and the Irving J. Thalberg Memorial Award (which was not given this year). Governors come prepared to the meeting to advocate for their choices and a well-researched and delivered presentation can make a big difference. Afterward, candidates must receive a certain threshold of votes. No matter the process, one can’t argue that the achievements of this quartet of filmmakers meet the criteria. As for other deserving artists, there’s always next year.

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