Just four years ago, Cicely Tyson made history as the first black woman to receive an honorary Oscar, given in recognition of her immeasurably influential six decades of acting. Now, the academy’s board has demonstrated its commitment to continuing to show appreciation for black women in film by announcing Eujan Palcy as one of this year’s honor recipients. The innovative director-screenwriter-producer, whose professional career dates back 40 years, follows Sidney Poitier, Spike Leeand Charles Burnett as the fourth black filmmaker to receive this accolade, and the fifth woman to do so after Lilian Gish, Agnes Varda, Lina Wertmullerand Elaine May.
In the same way Michael J. Fox, Diane Warrenand Peter Weir, Palcy is set to be recognized at the 13th Annual Governors Awards. The 64-year-old’s tribute comes in recognition of her status as a “pioneering filmmaker whose groundbreaking significance in international cinema is steeped in cinematic history”. In a career of firsts, it’s fitting that she’s the one to open that door for all black women striving to express their worldview through the creation of narrative features.
Palcy grew up on the island of Martinique in the French West Indies, where she developed an eloquent writer’s voice and a passion for visual storytelling. Her early career as an employee of a local television station gave her access to the tools she needed to produce her art, and her first project ended up being the 1975 TV movie “The Messenger.” She then directed her first short film, “The Devil’s Workshop” (1982), before making her feature film debut with “Sugar Cane Alley” (1983).
Palcy’s directorial work in “Sugar Cane Alley” won her a Venice Film Festival award and a César, both in the Best First Film category. She was the first black recipient of either award as well as the first woman to win the latter. She then set more records with her next film, “A Dry White Season” (1989), becoming the first black woman to both direct a Hollywood film and direct an actor (Marlon Brando) to an Oscar nomination. Brando requested no compensation for his supporting performance in the film because he was so deeply moved by Palcy’s noble desire to raise awareness about the issue of apartheid in South Africa.
Since releasing her third feature, “Simeon,” in 1992, Palcy has created several television specials, including the Disney-backed TV movie “Ruby Bridges” (1998) and the Showtime feature “The Killing Yard” (2001 ). She has also proven herself to be a dedicated humanitarian and a tireless supporter of young aspiring filmmakers, her impressive example serving as more than enough inspiration for anyone seeking to make a statement through the visual arts.
An honorary Oscar is awarded “to honor extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement, outstanding contributions to the state of the motion picture arts and sciences, or for outstanding service to the academy”. At least one of these awards has been presented during or before all but 10 of the 94 Academy Awards. Palcy and her fellow winners will receive their trophies on November 19, 2022.
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