Memo to Oscars: Bring back Governors Awards even if they have to be virtual

At Sunday’s Emmys Tyler Perry was honored with the Governors Award. It was presented by his pal Oprah Winfrey and Perry delivered a powerful acceptance speech that was a highlight of the virtual ceremony. The Oscars used to include honorary awards most years and these too were often the most memorable moments of the evening. In 2009, the academy moved these de facto lifetime achievement awards off of the Oscars and staged separate Governor Awards.

The ceremony in mid November has become a key date in awards season, with contenders getting to schmooze with academy members. When this year’s Oscars were postponed for several months back in June so too were the Governor Awards. But we haven’t heard an update on the status of these honorary Oscars since then.

By not being part of the televised Academy Awards, this has meant more people could be honored each year as there ae no time constraints to consider. To that end there have been four honorees every year but two (2011, 2015) since 2009. And this change has allowed for a wider range of talents to be tapped.

The selection process is very straightforward. Members of the board of governors put forth suggestions, with each of the top choices then voted on individually. Honorees must receive support from at least half of those on the board. The usual limit is three honorees. For a fourth to be named, he or she needs to garner two-thirds of the votes. Since the academy shifted these honorary kudos from the telecast to a separate ceremony 11 years ago, they have celebrated 43 people.

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In 2009, honorary Oscars went to actress Lauren Bacall, cinematographer Gordon Willis and producer Roger Corman while studio executive John Calley received the Irving Thalberg Award.

In 2010, honorary Oscars were bestowed on actor Eli Wallach, filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard and film historian Kevin Brownlow while Francis Ford Coppola was given the Thalberg.

In 2011, honorary Oscars were awarded to actor James Earl Jones and makeup pioneer Dick Smith while TV personaility Oprah Winfrey was given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

In 2012, the academy snubbed on-screen talent entirely with honorary Oscars going to stuntman turned director Hal Needham, documentarian D.A. Pennebaker and director/producer George Stevens, Jr. while studio exec Jeffrey Katzenberg received the Hersholt.

In 2013, honorary Oscars went to actors Steve Martin and Angela Lansbury as well as costume designer Piero Tosi while actress/director Angelina Jolie was feted with the Hersholt.

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In 2014, actress Maureen O’Hara, animator Hayao Miyazaki and writer Jean-Claude Carrière got honorary Oscars while actor/singer Harry Belafonte got the Hersholt.

In 2015, actress Gena Rowlands and director Spike Lee received honorary Oscars while Debbie Reynolds was feted with the Hersholt.

In 2016, action star Jackie Chan, film editor Anne V. Coates, casting director Lynn Stalmaster and documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman all received honorary Oscars.

In 2017, honorary Oscars were bestowed on director Charles Burnett, cinematographer Owen Roizman, actor Donald Sutherland and documentary filmmaker Agnès Varda.

In 2018, actress Cicely Tyson, producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, publicist Marvin Levy and composer Lalo Schifrin were the honorees.

In 2019, director David Lynch, actor Wes Studi and director Lina Wertmuller were saluted and actress Geena Davis got the Hersholt.

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