Spike Lee, Artistic Director and Professor of the Graduate Film Program at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts and renowned director, producer, actor, and teacher, was presented with an Honorary Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at a black tie banquet held in Hollywood on November 14.
The Honorary Award, an Oscar statuette, is given in recognition of “extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement, exceptional contributions to the state of motion picture arts and sciences, or for outstanding service to the Academy.” Lee was honored for his extensive achievements in particular in independent film and for his work as a teacher and mentor to young filmmakers. Recognized along with Lee at Saturday’s ceremony were actress Gena Rowlands, who also received an Honorary Award, and actress Debbie Reynolds, who received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
An alumnus as well as a faculty member, Lee received a Student Academy Award in 1983 for his NYU thesis film, “Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads.” He helped define America's new independent cinema with his first full-length feature, “She's Gotta Have It” in 1986. In 1989, with "Do the Right Thing”, he became the first African American to move decisively into the front rank of the film industry, while breaking new ground in his portrayal of the black community and creating a work that has since become a lasting testament to its time and place.
Over a career that now spans three decades, he has gone on to make more than thirty films in every genre, including intimate family dramas, crime thrillers, historical epics, satires, musicals, and documentaries, and has introduced actors such as Samuel L. Jackson, Queen Latifah, and Halle Berry to the screen. For close to 20 years, he has taught and mentored students at Tisch, where he has also endowed the Spike Lee Film Production Fund, providing completion funds to more than 40 students for their thesis films.
The Academy’s Honorary Award is given at the discretion of the Board of Governors and not necessarily awarded every year. For more information about this year’s awards, visit the www.oscars.org/governors/honorary.