Sunday, January 27, 2002
Oscar’s cream of the crop - THE COMMENTARY
By Joseph Planta
VANCOUVER -- Whoopi Goldberg last hosted the Academy Awards in 1999. Previous to that she hosted the 1996 telecast which was a show that was mired in a bit of controversy. Jesse Jackson called for a boycott of the Oscars, because of the absence of black nominees in the acting categories. Jackson was definitely out to lunch, because award giving really has no boundaries, and giving an Oscar to one because he or she was black is total errant nonsense. And Jackson was further out to lunch, because that particular telecast was practically awash in black performers and the like.
Quincy Jones produced the show, whilst Goldberg hosted. Oprah Winfrey opened the show interviewing attendees on the red carpet, and there were appearances by Angela Bassett, Lawrence Fishburne, Naomi Campbell, Take 6 and Vanessa Williams among others. Certainly, the producers countered Jesse Jackson by bringing out a plethora of blacks rendering the much-controversial preacher rather meaningless. I wonder what the good reverend would say with this year’s crop of nominees. Since 1996, Cuba Gooding Jr. became the 6th black to win an Oscar for acting; and this year there’s good buzz on Halle Berry, Denzel Washington, and Will Smith scoring nods. Since 1996, Jesse Jackson’s pronouncements on Hollywood’s Academy Awards have been few.
The best picture statuette, that year, was handed out by Sidney Poitier, who strolled out to a standing ovation. At the Oscars, on most years the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gives out Honorary Oscars. These have been given to legendary or landmark film personalities, who as the Academy’s rules state, have made “exceptional distinction in the making of motion pictures”.
Sidney Poitier, the only black actor to win a leading actor Oscar, will receive an Honorary Academy Award this year. It’ll be among the other 2 that along with the competitive group that the Academy will hand out on March 24th. Poitier, who won the best actor Oscar in 1963 for Lilies of the Field, has only one other nomination under his belt, a 1958 nod for his work in Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones.
There is no one more deserving of an Honorary Oscar than Sidney Poitier. He does for acting more than any other actor I know and for black actors from Eddie Murphy to Oprah Winfrey to James Earl Jones, he does more than just be a historical first. I’ve longed admired Sidney Poitier and though I break my own little rule about the Academy giving Honorary Oscars to previous Oscar winners in competitive categories, I totally agree with what Academy President Frank Pierson said, “When the Academy honours Sidney Poitier, it honours itself even more.”
My rule on the giving out of Honorary Oscars is merely that the Academy can use them to honour those people who have not won competitive Oscars. Like the 1993 case when Deborah Kerr got one, as she had come up winless after something like 8 competitive nominations. Ditto for Kirk Douglas in 1996, Michael Kidd in 1997, Stanley Donen in 1998 and Jack Cardiff last year. Sidney Poitier defies my inane “rule” and I’m so pleased he’ll be getting his just reward. Word is that two-time Oscar winner and recent addition to the Academy’s Board of Governors, Tom Hanks, had something to do with Poitier’s getting of the Honorary Oscar. At the Governor’s meeting, Hanks piped up before calling the vote: “When I was a young actor, I worked as a bellboy. I carried Mr. Poitier’s bags once and he tipped me five bucks!”
The actual citation that will appear on the Oscar: “To Sidney Poitier, for his extraordinary performances and unique presence on the screen, and for representing the motion picture industry with dignity, style, and intelligence throughout the world.” Amen.
The Academy will also be giving a special Oscar in the form of the Jean Hersolt Humanitarian Award. The Hersolt is another special award that the Academy gives out to honour those in film whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry. This year film director and former Academy president Arthur Hiller will receive the Hersolt. The award has been previously given to Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn (posthumously), Quincy Jones, Frank Sinatra and Martha Raye amongst others.
This year is an extra special year, I think for the Oscars, because with the Poitier tribute, the Academy is giving out an additional Honorary Oscar to Robert Redford. Redford, like Poitier has won an Oscar, however his was for directing. In 1980 he won the directing prize for Ordinary People, though he had been nominated for best actor for The Sting in 1973. In 1994 he was nominated for producing and directing the 1994 best picture nominee, Quiz Show. His creation of the Sundance Film Festival, a showcase of independent films, has been a credit to the industry. Redford’s citation will read: “Robert Redford -- Actor, Director, Producer, Creator of Sundance, inspiration to independent and innovative filmmakers everywhere.”
There’s already lots to look forward to at this year’s Oscars and that’s not counting what’ll happen in the competitive races. The Oscar nominations will be announced on Wednesday, February 13, 2002.
It has come to my attention that the column that last appeared in this space was dated incorrectly. It should have read: Friday, January 25, 2002.
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