Directors David Lynch and Lina Wertmüller and actors Geena Davis and Wes Studi have been named recipients of this year’s Governors Awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Academy announced on Monday.
Lynch, Wertmüller and Studi will receive honorary Oscars and Davis will receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at a ceremony at the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland on Oct. 27.
The Academy’s Board of Governors chose the recipients at a special meeting on Saturday, with the announcement delayed until AMPAS President John Bailey could reach all the recipients to tell them of the honor.
The four awards reflect the Academy’s recent push for a more international and diverse membership. Wertmüller followed Agnes Varda, Hayao Miyazaki and Jean-Luc Godard as non-American directors to win the award. Studi was awarded as a pioneering Native American actor, and Davis’ Hersholt Award came because of her advocacy of gender equality.
From the AMPAS press release announcing the honors:
“These Governors Awards given by the Academy each year recognize individuals who have devoted themselves to a lifetime of artistic accomplishment and brought outstanding contributions to our industry, and beyond,” said Academy President John Bailey. “It is with great pleasure that we announce this year’s recipients.”
Davis, who won an Oscar for her supporting performance in “The Accidental Tourist” (1988), has been a passionate advocate for gender equality in media. 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. As an actor, she is recognized for portraying strong leading roles in such films as “Thelma & Louise” (1991), for which she earned an Oscar nomination, “The Fly” (1986), “Beetlejuice” (1988), “A League of Their Own” (1992) and “The Long Kiss Goodnight” (1996).
Born in Missoula, Montana, in 1946, Lynch is a filmmaker, musician and artist. He wrote, produced and directed his first full-length feature film, “Eraserhead,” in 1977. With editing, scoring and sound design also led by Lynch, the film continues to draw a large cult following. Its success brought Lynch the opportunity to direct “The Elephant Man” (1980), which received eight Oscar nominations including Directing and Adapted Screenplay for Lynch himself. His prolific career has included two more Directing nominations – for “Blue Velvet” (1986) and “Mulholland Drive” (2001) – and additional directing credits for “Dune” (1984), “Wild at Heart” (1990), “Lost Highway” (1997), “The Straight Story” (1999) and “Inland Empire” (2006).
Studi is a Cherokee-American actor who has appeared in more than 30 films, becoming known for portraying strong Native American characters with poignancy and authenticity. Born and raised in Nofire Hollow, Oklahoma, Studi became deeply involved with Native American politics and activism after a tour of military service in Vietnam. He began his acting career with the American Indian Theater Company and his first film role in the independent feature “Powwow Highway” (1989) led to a memorable appearance in “Dances with Wolves” (1990). He has since co-starred in such films as “The Last of the Mohicans” (1992), “Geronimo: An American Legend” (1993), “Heat” (1995), “The New World” (2005) and “Avatar” (2009).
In 1976, Wertmüller became the first woman to receive an Academy Award nomination for Directing when she received both Directing and Original Screenplay nominations for “Seven Beauties.” Known for focusing on political and social issues, Wertmüller has written and directed such notable films as “The Basilisks” (1963), “The Seduction of Mimi” (1972), “Love and Anarchy” (1973) and “Swept Away” (1974).
The Governors Awards ceremony was first held in 2009, as a way to move honorary presentations off the Academy Awards show while allowing more time to showcase the recipients. Since then 30 people have been given honorary Oscars, five have been given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and four have been awarded the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award.
Honorary Oscar recipients have included actors Lauren Bacall, James Earl Jones, Steve Martin, Maureen O’Hara, Gena Rowlands, Donald Sutherland and Cicely Tyson; directors Jean-Luc Godard, D.A. Pennebaker, Agnes Varda, Spike Lee and Charles Burnett; cinematographer Gordon Willis; editor Anne V. Coates; animator Hayao Miyazaki; makeup artist Dick Smith; casting director Lynn Stalmaster; and composer Lalo Schifrin, among others.
The producers who have won the Thalberg in that time are Francis Ford Coppola, John Calley and the team of Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, while the Hersholt award has gone to Debbie Reynolds, Harry Belafonte, Angelina Jolie, Oprah Winfrey and Jeffrey Katzenberg.
While the number of recipients of honorary awards was capped at two a year when the presentations were made on the Oscar show, Academy rules now allow the board to choose up to four Governors Award recipients each year. It has now done so in nine of the 11 years.
The Board of Governors has typically met in early September to choose the Governors Award recipients, with the awards presented in mid-November. But this year’s selection was made three months earlier than usual, and the ceremony will take place in October rather than November. It will be part of an accelerated awards season in which the Oscar show itself has been moved up to Feb. 9 and the Academy also plans to open its long-awaited Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.