As of 2009, a pit stop to the annual Academy Awards has been the Governor Awards, a celebration of lifetime achievement. In its seventh year, director/actor Spike Lee and actors Gena Rowlands and Debbie Reynolds were honored.
The presentation of these awards was originally a portion of the Academy Awards event itself, but in an effort to trim the length of the ceremony and give deserved attention to winners that are being acknowledged for their careers, the Governor Awards have taken place as a separate occasion for the better part of a decade.The results of the event still get mentioned during the Academy Awards ceremonies, in the form of a brief slideshow.
The Awards have now evolved to a point where it is the first notable destination for Oscar hopefuls, an aspect that remained true on Saturday. The Ray Dolby Ballroom in Los Angeles was filled with the star power of famous actors, directors and other industry professionals.
Chery Boone Isaacs, academy president, stated in a press release, “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.”
Of the four awards that are given out, only three were awarded this year. The absence of the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, named after the legendary MGM head, is given to producers who consistently put out high quality films. The last Thalberg Award was given to Francis Ford Coppola in 2010. Coppola is most known for directing “The Godfather” movies.
Lee and Rowlands were each bestowed an Academy Honorary Award. Lee has been nominated for two Oscars, one for original screenplay for the 1989 film “Do the Right Thing” and best documentary for “4 Little Girls” in 1997. Aside from nominated work, Lee has made a variety of commercially successful and independent projects in his time as a filmmaker.
Lee’s acceptance speech quickly turned political, as he stated, “You better get smart about making films that represent the population – because by 2043, Caucasians are going to be the minority in the U.S.”
Isaacs echoed this message about expanding diversity in Hollywood in her opening remarks as well as touching on the tragedy in Paris and noting the French people’s love for cinema.
Gena Rowlands was also recognized for her body of work. Like Lee, Rowlands had been previously nominated for two Oscars for her performance in “A Woman Under the Influence” in 1974 and “Gloria” in 1980. She was introduced with high praise by Meryl Streep, and her award was presented by her son Nick Cassavetes.
The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award was given to Debbie Reynolds, and is described as given to “an individual in the motion pictures arts and sciences whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry.”
Reynolds was unable to make it to the ceremony because of a recent surgery, but accepting the award on her behalf was her granddaughter Billie Lourd. In addition to Lourd’s acceptance, an audio clip of Reynolds’s acknowledgements was played.
She was nominated for an Oscar in 1964 for “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” Her philanthropic efforts have benefited over 25 charities, beginning with the foundation of the mental health charity The Thalians in 1955. Reynolds is also credited with the preservation of 3,500 costumes that appeared in films, an acknowledgement of her efforts to maintain Hollywood legacy.
The event was a feel-good affair for the recipients and an essential stop for professionals eyeing February’s Academy Awards.