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Governors Award Winner Spike Lee to Hollywood: ‘You Better Get Smart’

Governors Awards recipient Spike Lee reminded hundreds of Hollywood heavy-hitters about their failure at diversity, warning, “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.

Lee’s 17-minute speech was delivered in a calm and genial manner, concluding Saturday’s awards ceremony at Hollywood & Highland that also honored Debbie Reynolds and Gena Rowlands. Lee said when he goes through Hollywood offices, there are only white faces, and the only person of color is the man checking the name at the door. “This industry is so behind sports, it’s ridiculous,” he said, adding that it’s apparently easier for a black person to become president of the U.S. than the head of a studio or TV network.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences president Cheryl Boone Isaacs opened the evening by urging Hollywood to move ahead on diversity, saying, “Words are not enough; we need to take action.” She said the Academy has begun a program called A2020, a five-year plan to get executives to think outside the traditional thinking when hiring, mentoring and encouraging new talent. She also addressed the deaths in Paris on Friday, saying “all of us here stand in solidarity with France and the French people.”

Isaacs also got applause when she pointed out that the evening’s three honorees are important artists “who happen to be two women and one African-American man.”

The Academy’s Governors Awards 2015

The opening and closing remarks added a sociopolitical touch to the evening, which mixed awards buzz, movie-biz nostalgia and the mingling of old and new Hollywood, as movie royalty like Robert De Niro, Jane Fonda and Ian McKellen met with Ice Cube, Saoirse Ronan and Joel Edgerton. Also there accepting congrats for the evening, were Academy CEO Dawn Hudson, many members of the Board of Governors and the producers of the event, Bonnie Curtis and Julie Lynn.

Reynolds was unable to accept her Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in person, so her granddaughter Billie Lourd made a brief and charming acceptance speech in her place. And an audio recording was played of Reynolds, sounding deeply moved in thanking the Academy Board of Governors for the honor.

Fonda and Meryl Streep introduced the segment saluting Reynolds, with 25-plus charities benefiting from her philanthropy. The presentation made particular note of the Thalians, which Reynolds has been spearheading in its work on mental health issues since the 1950s. It also pointed out her decades-long work at preserving Hollywood heritage, including her rescue of 3,500 movie costumes.

Cate Blanchett honored Rowlands as an inspiration, for bringing the “intense authenticity and immediacy” of a live-theater experience to her film work. Laura Linney said Rowlands “smashed and destroyed” the traditional female image of her generation by creating a seismic shift in the depiction of women in her films with John Cassavetes.

The actresses were followed by film clips, narrated by Angelina Jolie, of the their work over the years. Rowlands received two standing ovations, before and after her acceptance speech, in which she paid tribute to writers and told a funny anecdote about working with her idol, Bette Davis. She was presented her trophy by son Nick Cassavetes.

The comic highlight of the evening was the interplay among Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson and Wesley Snipes as they bantered about working with Lee. Jackson hailed the filmmaker as an “American anarchist” and Washington said Lee had put more African-American people to work than anyone else in the history of this business.

At Saturday’s event, the three Governors Award Oscar honorees are allegedly the focus, but for some reason, awards strategists have come to regard the evening as a crucial step in the awards season. Many of the year’s contenders are living and/or working out of town, but studios demand that their Oscar hopefuls come to L.A. for this rite.

And every year it seems to get more intense. The Academy’s tip sheet this week offered more than 100 names of people who are front-runners, dark horses, or are connected with films that are in the mix. Tom Hooper chatted with Ridley Scott, Steve Carell talked with Jay Roach, and Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, Cate Blanchett, Will Smith, and Charlotte Rampling were among the many in the buzzy crowd.

The impressive list of attendees included Danny Boyle, Michael Caine, Scott Cooper, Tom Courtenay, Bryan Cranston, John Crowley, Johnny Depp, Roger Deakins, F. Gary Gray, Todd Haynes, Michael Keaton, Peter Landesman, Brie Larson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Helen Mirren, Jason Mitchell, Carey Mulligan, László Nemes, Bennet Omalu, Joshua Oppenheimer, Bill Pohlad, Brett Ratner, Mark Ruffalo, Kurt Russell, Aaron Sorkin, Paolo Sorrentino, James Vanderbilt, Denis Villeneuve and Diane Warren.

In 2009, the Academy broke out the Governors Awards into a separate, untelevised ceremony; the Oscarcast time constraints limited the number of honorees and the time devoted to each. So the separate ceremony was an experiment, but an immediate success.

The org can salute up to four people each year. It’s generally been four honorees, except for 2011, when there were three. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voted on the awards at their Aug. 25 meeting and announced the recipients a few days later.

AMPAS announced earlier this week that Reynolds would be unable to attend. She is not the first to miss out on her trophy. At the inaugural Governors Awards ceremony in 2009, John Calley was too ill to attend; for the second rites, Jean-Luc Godard stayed home. In the third, James Earl Jones was performing in the West End, so a video hookup allowed him to accept his trophy after a performance of “Driving Miss Daisy.”

(Pictured: Will Smith, Samuel L. Jackson and Wesley Snipes surround honoree Spike Lee with his Oscar. Also, Gena Rowlands and Spike Lee)

 

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