The Governors Awards seals it — awards season is officially back to its pre-pandemic level of glamour and frenzy. Martinique-born filmmaker Euzhan Palcy, American songwriter Diane Warren and Australian director Peter Weir were on hand to receive their honorary Oscars and Michael J. Fox to receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Academy’s event Saturday night at the Fairmont Century Plaza in Century City.
Oscar contenders including Jennifer Lawrence, Florence Pugh, Angela Bassett, Eddie Redmayne, Michelle Williams, Cate Blanchett, Brendan Fraser, Tom Hanks, Janelle Monáe and Baz Luhrmann attended the celebration, typically a marquee event for campaigning that has been muted since COVID-19 hit. (See red carpet photos here.)
“Wow, what a room! Who wouldn’t want to be here tonight?” Academy president Janet Yang said, opening the event.
Fox, 61, who is best known for the Back to the Future films and Family Ties TV series, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991. In 2000, he launched the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, and he is the subject of a documentary, now in production, from Oscar-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim.
“You guys are making me shake,” Fox quipped, after receiving a standing ovation while accepting his award. “This is so cool.” Fox joked about being “’80s famous,” quoted from Bruce Springsteen’s song “No Surrender” and spoke about his diagnosis with Parkinson’s at age 29. “The hardest part was grappling with the certainty of the diagnosis and the uncertainty of the situation,” he said. Fox referred to Parkinson’s as “the gift that keeps on taking.”
Woody Harrelson delivered a funny, rambling and tender speech about Fox, his friend since the 1980s, mentioning everything from the time they drank cobra blood together to the fact that Fox has raised more than $1 billion for Parkinson’s research. “This guy was a master class in comedy,” Harrelson said, of the first time he saw Fox on Family Ties. “He turned a chilling diagnosis into a courageous mission. Michael J. Fox never asked for the role of Parkinson’s advocate, but it is his best performance.”
Mindy Kaling hosted the event, joking about its timing the Saturday before Thanksgiving, “a famously convenient and errand-free time.” Speaking about Palcy, Kaling referenced her film A Dry White Season, or “what I used to call awards season.”
The honorary Oscar speeches were alternately tender and witty. Cher presented Warren with her Oscar, joking about the songwriter’s tenaciousness. “One of my fondest memories is when she followed me into an Al-Anon meeting to play me a song,” Cher said.
Warren, 65, the first songwriter to earn an honorary Oscar, has been nominated for a competitive Oscar 13 times and never won, for such songs as “How Do I Live,” from Con Air; “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” (Armageddon) and “There You’ll Be” (Pearl Harbor).
When Warren accepted her prize, she held her statuette to the sky. “Mom, I finally found a man,” Warren said. “I waited 34 years to say this: I’d like to thank the Academy.”
Weir, 78, a filmmaker associated with the Australian New Wave who then made the leap to Hollywood, has been nominated for an Oscar once as a producer, four times as a director and once as a writer. His films include Gallpoli (1981), Dead Poets Society (1989) and The Truman Show (1998).
Weir talked about working with Robin Williams, his Dead Poets Society star, and his early years of working in Australia. “There was no one to tell you you were wrong,” Weir said. He spoke about his years in Hollywood, saying, “You’re so welcoming to foreigners like me.”
“I’ve gone back to reading about explorers,” Weir added. “Making these films is like a journey. “My crew always knew it wasn’t about my ego, or their egos, it was about the film’s ego.”
Palcy, 64, who was born in Martinique, French West Indies, was the first Black female filmmaker to direct a film for a major Hollywood studio, MGM’s A Dry White Season (1989), which earned Marlon Brando his final Oscar nomination.
Viola Davis introduced Palcy, praising her career of “speaking truth to power.” “I’ll try not to use the word ‘first’ too many times,” Davis said, before ticking off Palcy’s achievements. “You did not defend your Blackness, you did not defend your womanhood,” Davis said, addressing Palcy. “You used it as warrior fuel.”
Palcy acknowledged two young female film students from Martinique whom she had brought to the event, telling the audience she wanted them to, “Go back home and explain to the other kids how it was, who they met.”
She said over the years she had grown weary of being considered a pioneer. “I was so tired of hearing praise for being the first of too many firsts but denied the chance to make the movies I wanted to make,” Palcy said. “I was not behind the camera doing what God put me on earth to do.”
Of why she kept her silence, Palcy said she had grown tired of hearing from studios that Black and female was not bankable: “Black is bankable. Female is bankable. Black and female is bankable. My stories are universal.”
During the cocktail hour, stars mixed and mingled. Armageddon Time’s Jeremy Strong made a beeline for his Brooklyn neighbor, Paul Dano (The Fabelmans). Strong shared the story that as a kid on a trip to L.A., he had convinced his father to let him sleep on the bleachers outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion the year Robert Downey Jr. was nominated for Chaplin. “It means a lot to me to be here,” Strong said.
Tár director Todd Field, a first-time Governors Awards attendee, got excited about meeting photographer Nan Goldin, the subject of the Laura Poitras documentary All the Beauty and the Bloodshed and The Fabelmans’ Judd Hirsch.
Some colleagues were meeting for the first time, thanks to the pandemic. Pugh met her Puss in Boots: The Last Wish director Joel Crawford in person for the first time, after performing all of her voice work remotely London.
The Academy held a scaled-down Governors Awards show in March of this year, which had been postponed to outside the voting window due to the Omicron surge, and the organization held no event for the 2021 Oscars.