There is a fierce controversy racking Hollywood over the announcement this week that Oprah Winfrey had been selected by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences to receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, along with veteran actor James Earl Jones and Makeup pioneer Dick Smith getting Honorary Awards, at a special Governor's Awards ceremony on November 12th. (Danish-born actor Hersholt helped found the Motion Picture Relief Fund in 1939.) Respected L.A. Times entertainment columnist Patrick Goldstein, whom I eminently admire and faithfully read, spoke out loud and clear with his objections to her selection. His argument was that she is not 'a motion picture person' and they just wanted to get some people of color into the mix. Despite the fact that she has several respectable acting and producing credits (she was nominated for an Oscar for her first acting role in The Color Purple and had a producing credit last year helping bring the powerful, controversial Precious to the screen), he feels she is just a 57-year-old TV personality and not worthy of this honor (despite the fact that she has given over $500 million of her own money to charitable causes.) Sorry, Patrick, but you are way, way off-base. It has nothing to do with bringing 'people of color' to the show; it is just smart and warranted, period, end of discussion. Move on.
My Huffington Post readers will remember my scathing review the following day of last year's Oscar show. I was appalled at its production from beginning to end and said so in my blog. Although I am a 40-year veteran of this Academy, I did not participate in its radical, even revolutionary make-things-right behavior since, but I applaud President Tom Sherak and the Board for its brave and forthright actions to right a tilting ship. Most exciting and startling in its decisiveness was the inspired hiring of the brilliant and creative Dawn Hudson from the independent film world to become the new working head of the Academy. That was a mind-blowing smart decision, as this young woman had demonstrated her command of our industry and its political dynamics. Yesterday, they announced that director Brett Rattner and veteran Don Misher would produce the Oscar show, another canny move. Brett is a hip (sometimes too much so) figure in our industry, but he is energetic and smart and 'connected' (with all that party-going, of course), and Don is just the best at what he does best. It was a pairing made in show business heaven.
There has even been talk of Oprah hosting the Academy Oscar show next February, but with this award I don't think that will happen. The powers-that-be should make every effort to get Billy Crystal back on board, and he has indicated that he is receptive. Whether Oprah will play a part in the actual Oscar show or not, it is still a smart popular and public relations move to anoint her with the honorary award for her film and charitable activities. My only objection to the Governor's Award program, which incidentally is not telecast, is that they charge $350 for a dinner ticket and most individual Academy members won't spend it, so the studios and agencies all take the tables. (There should be a lottery for a group of members to be invited gratis.) But when they honored my friend of forty years, Roger Corman, last year, I was thrilled for him and Julie at the recognition of one of our industry's smartest and most practical (read: penurious) legends. So bravo to the Academy for taking the necessary steps to restore the luster of stardom to our eminent industry.
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