When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decides to honor someone from the film industry with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, the choice is generally greeted with approving nods and praise.
Not this time.
Yesterday's reveal that Oprah Winfrey would be the latest recipient (the award was last given out to Jerry Lewis in 2009) has sparked an unusual degree of criticism. The award, first given out in 1957, was created to honor an "individual in the motion picture industry whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry.”
Winfrey, 57, has consistently been ranked among the world's most philanthropic celebrities (having donated between $300-$400 million), but some nevertheless believe her limited background in film disqualifies her from the honorary Oscar.
"Winfrey simply doesn't belong in the same company as previous Hersholt winners, who have included such movie icons as Jerry Lewis, Sherry Lansing, Quincy Jones, Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor," writes Patrick Goldstein of the L.A. Times
. "Even David Wolper, a Hersholt winner from 1985 who was best known for a 40-plus-year career as an A-list TV producer, had a much heftier body of work in film, including producing credits on the original 'Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory' and an Oscar-nominated documentary."
"It seems like a shameless bid for a ratings boost — although once they start showing clips from 'Beloved' and 'The Color Purple,' the numbers will plummet," film critic John Anderson told The Hollywood Reporter
The other recipients of this year's honorary Oscars will be actor James Earl Jones and makeup artist Dick Smith. Jones has starred in more than 50 films and is best known as the voice of Darth Vader. Smith is nicknamed "the godfather of makeup" and helped bring to life such classics as "The Exorcist," "Taxi Driver" and "The Godfather." He won an Oscar for 1984's "Amadeus."
Winfrey earned a supporting actress Oscar nomination for her film debut in Spielberg's 1985 film, "The Color Purple" and also served as an executive producer of the hit 2009 film "Precious." Besides bit parts in other movies and television series, there's also her 25 years as host of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and current gig running the Oprah Winfrey Network.
"Oprah has given and given and given," said president of the academy Tom Sherak in defending the decision. "She's a member of the academy, she was nominated for an Academy Award and she has produced movies. This is not about personality. This is about a person who has come from the depths, risen to the heights and given back. That's a perfect example of why this award was created."
Winfrey, Jones and Smith will receive their honorary Oscars at a Nov. 12 ceremony at the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland in Los Angeles.