The selections were made by the AMPAS Board of Governors at a meeting on Tuesday night, with the announcement delayed until the Academy could contact all the honorees.
“The Board is proud to recognize our honorees’ remarkable contributions at this year’s Governors Awards,” said Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs. “We’ll be celebrating their achievements with the knowledge that the work they have accomplished — with passion, dedication and a desire to make a positive difference — will also enrich future generations.”
Lee, a champion of independent film, made an auspicious debut with his NYU thesis film, “Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads,” which won a Student Academy Award in 1983. He proceeded to blaze a distinctive trail with such features as “She’s Gotta Have It,” “School Daze” and “Do the Right Thing,” which earned him a 1989 Oscar nomination for Original Screenplay. His work as a director ranges from the Oscar-nominated documentary feature “4 Little Girls” to such mainstream successes as “Malcolm X” and “Inside Man.”
Rowlands, an original talent whose devotion to her craft has earned her worldwide recognition as an independent film icon, received Academy Award nominations for her lead performances in “A Woman under the Influence” (1974) and “Gloria” (1980), both directed by her husband and frequent collaborator, John Cassavetes. She got her start on the New York stage and in live television in the 1950s and has appeared in 40 feature films to date, from “The High Cost of Loving” in 1958 to “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks,” which she starred in earlier this year.
Reynolds, a Hollywood icon since she won hearts with her buoyant performance in “Singin’ in the Rain,” embarked on the role of a lifetime as a founding member of the Thalians, a charitable organization sustained by entertainers to promote awareness and treatment of mental health issues. She served as the group’s president almost continuously from 1957 to 2011, adding numerous terms as board chair and frequently presiding over its annual fundraising gala.
Her efforts have enabled the Thalians to contribute millions to the Mental Health Center at Cedars-Sinai and to UCLA’s Operation Mend, which helps military veterans recover from the physical and psychological wounds of war. Reynolds has appeared in more than 40 feature films, including “The Tender Trap,” “A Catered Affair” and “Mother,” and received a 1964 Oscar nomination for her lead performance in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”
For most of the Academy’s existence, Honorary Oscars have been handed out on the Academy Awards show — but in 2009, after years of complaints that the lengthy presentations made a long show even longer, the Academy moved them to a separate, non-televised event in the fall.
At the same time, the board relaxed the rules to allow for more honorary awards to be handed out. Before the move, a maximum of two awards were presented each year; afterwards, the Governors have selected the maximum of four honorees every year except 2011, when they opted for three.
The rules require a majority vote of the 51 governors for the first three awards, and a three-fourths majority for a fourth.
Recipients over those years have included actors Lauren Bacall, Eli Wallach, Maureen O’Hara and Steve Martin, producer-director Francis Ford Coppola (the Irving G. Thalberg Award for producing), director Jean-Luc Godard (a no-show), animation director Hayao Miyazaki, cinematographer Gordon Willis, makeup artist Dick Smith, stuntman/director Hal Needham, historian Kevin Brownlow and Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award winners Angelina Jolie, Oprah Winfrey, Harry Belafonte and Jeffrey Katzenberg.
This year’s Governors Awards will take place on Nov. 14 in the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland. The event has become a popular stop on the campaign circuit, with the room typically crowded not just with Academy members, but with actors and filmmakers from every movie in the running for awards.