Academy Honors Wes Studi, Geena Davis, David Lynch and Lina Wertmuller With Honorary Oscar

WES STUDI Last of the Mohicans

These four Hollywood veterans will be feted with honorary Oscars:

Wes Studi

Though actor Wes Studi is known for playing men of few words who often let their actions do the talking for them — think Magua in “Last of the Mohicans,” or his roles in “Avatar,” “Dances With Wolves,” “Heat” and “Geronimo: An American Legend” — he doesn’t hold back his enthusiasm for his 2019 Honorary Award, which will be the first given to a Native American performer.
“To get one is freaking fabulous,” he says.

Studi is grateful for the recognition of his peers for a career that has spanned more than two decades and touched on a diverse array of not only film and television projects.

It most recently has included recurring roles on “Penny Dreadful” and “Hell on Wheels,” as well as such features as “A Dog’s Way Home” and “Hostiles,” and also turns as writer, producer and director, language consultant, musician, author, activist, veteran and educator.

That passion for challenges runs throughout Studi’s personal and professional lives.

“What piques my interest [in a role] is something that I don’t recognize as having played before,” he says. “Anything that’s different from what I’ve done before, or that I can interpret a little differently, or have the freedom to do so. It’s a big field out there, and a person would like to be able to play on the whole field.”

To that end, he’s also pleased to see more Native Americans are willing to step up and take chances in the entertainment industry.

“It’s time that we become more and more involved. That’s always the first step, to say, ‘I’m going to declare myself a filmmaker of one kind or another.’ It’s time for more of us to be able to tell stories that center around us, or about us as Native Americans.”

— Paul Gaita

David Lynch

He is arguably one of the most singular and breathtakingly original American film artists to emerge over the past half-century, but David Lynch has never won an Oscar. He was, however, nominated for 1980’s “The Elephant Man,” 1986’s “Blue Velvet” and 2001’s “Mulholland Drive.” This is not a huge surprise; Lynch’s films plumb the darkest depths of human nature, and are often marked by narrative elisions, perverse shocks, and gorgeous incomprehensibility.

Recognizing his long history of artistic accomplishment and service to the industry, the Academy is finally bestowing Lynch with an Honorary Oscar on Oct. 27.

The Montana-born filmmaker has long been preoccupied with the surreal underbelly of suburban America. Some of his images have taken on a life of their own: the severed ear in the grass at the beginning of “Blue Velvet”; the deformed baby in “Eraserhead”; the notorious red room of “Twin Peaks”; and the naive smile on the face of Naomi Watts’ Hollywood ingenue in “Mulholland Drive.”

In 2017, speaking to Variety about “Twin Peaks: The Return,” the astonishing Showtime reboot of his beloved 1990s television series, Lynch described his image-making process as largely intuitive.

“It comes in a burst,” Lynch said. “An idea comes in, and if you stop and think about it, it has sound, it has image, it has a mood, and it even has an indication of wardrobe, and knowing a character, or the way they speak, the words they say. ”

Lynch is also an accomplished painter, whose work was the subject of a 2016 documentary, “David Lynch: The Art Life,” and a musician, whose eclectic solo album “Crazy Clown Time” was released in 2011. He is also a vocal proponent of Transcendental Meditation, which he supports through the David Lynch Foundation and wrote about in his bestseller “Catching the Big Fish.”

Lynch has not completed a feature film since 2006’s experimental odyssey “Inland Empire,” and has said he’s most comfortable with television, which allows him to develop narratives with a longer duration.

“Feature films are suffering a kind of bad time right now,” he told Variety in 2017, “because the feature films that play in theaters are blockbusters. That seems to fill the theaters, but the arthouse cinema is gone. So I say that cable television is a new art house, and it’s good that it’s here.” There are rumors abuzz about a Season 4 of “Twin Peaks” — and fans are eager to see him continue to push the boundaries of televisual storytelling — but so far there’s no confirmation.

— Akiva Gottlieb

Lina Wertmuller

In the 1970s, Lina Wertmüller burst on the international scene with a string of subversive movies combining satire, sociopolitical commentary, and outrageous sex such as “The Seduction of Mimi” (1972), “Swept Away” (1974) and “Seven Beauties” (1975), the grotesque Holocaust drama starring Giancarlo Giannini that made her the first woman nominated for a director Oscar.

At the time, Wertmüller was in San Francisco shooting her English-language debut, “A Night Full of Rain,” with Candice Bergen and Giannini.

“Obviously, I was glad, but I have to admit that at that moment, perhaps because I was so fully concentrated on the film I was shooting, I didn’t realize how important it was,” she says.

It was the media reaction that made her realize how significant that nomination was.

In her long career as a trailblazer in a male-dominated industry, Wertmüller has made almost 40 movies of many different genres. Besides her trademark provocative sociopolitical pics she’s made musicals, a spaghetti western with a female lead, romances, period pics and even a classroom drama, “Ciao, Professore” (1994). It put her back on the international map after her career took a downward turn during the 1980s.

“I’ve been drawn to each one for different reasons,” she says. “When I started making movies, women had just started working. There wasn’t the ambition for a woman to have a career. There were social rules that said that the husband brought home his salary, and the wife took care of educating the children and running the household. I’ve always refused these bourgeois rules, and I went down a different path. Today the situation has changed. In Italy and around the world there are many women directors, [but] the Academy so far has given very few of them recognition.”

The honorary Oscar will be followed by a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame the next day.

Of course she’s delighted about these accolades. But she also notes: “I never gave prizes that much importance. I’ve been pleased to get them, and they are useful. But they aren’t that big a deal. What I really cared about was having fun and being entertaining.”

— Nick Vivarelli

Geena Davis

Geena Davis, the Oscar- winning actress and gender-equality activist — set to be honored with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award by the Academy for her advocacy work — is a long-time inspiration to women who have admired her on screen.

“It’s really cool to be part of movies that people find so inspiring,” she says.

“A League of Their Own,” inspired many women to take up sports — including star soccer player Abby Wambach, who once enthused to Davis that the film was the reason she plays. And of course, seminal road-trip drama “Thelma & Louise” has become a major touchstone since its release in 1991. “I’ve had so many people tell me that they acted out our trip from that movie,” she says. “And I’m like, really? Which part? Where we kill the guy, or where we kill ourselves?”

“Thelma & Louise” had a “dramatic impact,” Davis says. “People really wanted to stop me and talk to me about it — about how it made them feel, and how many times they saw it.” She realized how rarely women felt empowered by films. “This is a movie where we literally kill ourselves, and women come out of the movie going, ‘Yeaaahhh!!!!’” From then she decided “to choose my roles with the women in the
audience in mind.”

Although it was considered an instant classic, “Thelma & Louise” didn’t have the impact Davis hoped it would in the industry. “All the press said it was going to change everything, that there are going to be so many female-led movies. And I was like, hot dog! Fantastic news! I was sure it was going to happen. And huh. It seems like it never did.”

So Davis took the matter into her own hands. With the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media, she leads the charge in advocating for equality in movies and television. Her organization has conducted crucial studies on representation on screen media, drawing conclusions that shock.

“I was horrified to see how few female characters there are on screen,” she says. “But what’s fascinating is that I not only figured out something no one else seemed to be aware of, but I happened upon the solution — the data.”

The numbers, she says, have had an immediate impact. “It seemed clear that this bias was totally unconscious,” she says. “The numbers have an impact — the creators of media are often appalled to realize how many women they are leaving out.”

— Calum Marsh