Oprah's honorary Oscar: Does she deserve it?

Art Streiber/OWN

In the 36 hours since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that Oprah Winfrey will receive its prestigious Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award this year, there’s been a smattering of criticism from some quarters that she’s not deserving of such a high film-industry honor since she’s mainly known for her work in television. So let’s look at the other 33 people that have earned the Hersholt prize over the last five decades and see how Winfrey measures up.

Twelve of the past honorees have been movie-biz executives who worked mostly behind the scenes on numerous projects (think Samuel Goldwyn, Lew Wasserman, or Sherry Lansing). Seven others have been producers, screenwriters, or directors like Arthur Hiller (Love Story) or David L. Wolper, who, it should be noted, worked mostly in TV. The other 14 recipients are best known as performers of some sort: Bob Hope, Gregory Peck, Martha Raye, George Jessel, Frank Sinatra, Rosalind Russell, Charlton Heston, Danny Kaye, Charles “Buddy” Rogers, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Quincy Jones, and Jerry Lewis.

Though Winfrey is certainly an industry powerhouse off-camera, she seems to fit best into this category. Since her film debut in 1985’s The Color Purple, Winfrey has been credited on five other film productions: Native Son (opposite Matt Dillon), Beloved, The Princess and the Frog (in which she did a voice part), and as producer on Precious and The Great Debaters. So she clearly has the fewest film credits of any of her comparable honorees.

But should that matter? Winfrey isn’t getting the same general honorary Oscar that veteran actor James Earl Jones will receive. Her award is for her humanitarian work, which is undeniably worthy of celebrating. And the fact remains that although she’s focused mainly on television in her career, Winfrey is a past Oscar nominee for her acting as well as a current Academy member. I don’t buy the argument that giving her the prize is a ratings ploy — though Winfrey will likely make a quick appearance at the Oscars next February, her award will be presented at the non-televised Governors Awards in November.

After last year’s predictable Academy Awards results, I’m just hoping there’s this much drama around the rest of this year’s Oscar season.


Comments (89 total) Add your comment
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  • RUCookie

    Of course she is deserving. There is nothing to complain about here… move on, please!

    • BeBe

      Totally Agree!

      • KC

        I’ll never have belief in the Academy Awards again if this overrated idiot gets an Oscar.
        She brainwashed a nation of bored housewives, stealing the format from Phil Donahue.

      • Ooca

        She beat Phil Donahue at his own game. Sounds like free market capitalism to me.

      • Oh please

        She has done more to better this planet through her HUMANITARIAN efforts (for which she is being honored) than most of us will ever do in a lifetime. If that’s idiotic then I don’t want to be smart.

      • JOHNNY


    • Steadman

      Totally disagree.

    • Susan

      I swear, entertainment people are the NEEDIEST people on the planet. There’s what? 50 different awards and/or awards show ALL dedicated to the celebration of the wonderfulness that is, well, THEM.

      • Just A Guy

        And millions of people watch them and comment on them.

    • Love and let live

      I know. I would get more mad at celebs getting honorary degrees they don’t really deserve. The doctorates that others have to work hard for.

    • johnc

      Please explain why she deserves the award!?

      Just because she supports the President, own a company, and rich!?

      Maybe she should donate all her money and asset to the government as her pal, Obama, has demanded all wealthy Americans to sacrifice for the sake of the Democrats. Maybe she would deserve the award.

      • Huta

        She deserves it because the award is for notable film people who give to charity. She is notable for winning an Oscar nomination on her first try and giving more money to charity than all other actors combined. Business week ranks her among the top 50 philanthropists

      • johnc

        The amount she gives probably equivalent to a drop in the bucket.

        It is not the amount that is given.

        Please read the Bible!

    • Strepsi

      I love Anjelica Huston, but Oprah was completely ROBBED of an Oscar for her role in “The Color Purple”, in which she made me ‘ugly cry’ several times, so I do not mind Oprah getting this Academy Award at all.

      Speaking of Special Oscars, know who deserves one?

      for reinventing the role of actor for a CGI age. But given the majority of voters are flesh-and-blood actors terrified of being replaced, it ain’t likely to happen.

      • Dave

        Totally agree about Andy. Did you know he did the main Ape on the new Planet of the Apes coming out this weekend. What a talent

      • Heather

        I absolutely agree! Andy Serkis will get his honours eventually. The man is amazing.

    • jake

      how can this be a ratings ploy when they won’t even show it on television — which I think is a huge mistake.

    • abadstroller

      I agree. Oprah Winfrey has worked in the film industry and has been a cheerleader for the Academy Awards. She killed it in “The Color Purple”. She has done voicework in films. She has produced at least two movies and has other in project status. Oprah has performed numerous humanitarian works all over the world. She’s been successful in the entertainment industry for twenty-five or so years. So, hell yeah, Ms. Winfrey deserves an Honorary Oscar. She should have received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Sophia. I saw both her performance in “The Color Purple” and Angelica Huston’s as Maerose in “Prizzi’s Honor”. Ms. Huston was very good, but Ms. Winfrey’s layered and textured performance was the true stunner. Perhaps some Academy voters were a wee bit over-impressed with Ms. Huston’s Hollywood pedigree (her father John Huston was both a noted actor and director; brother Danny was an actor as well). Oprah’s got THIS!

      • sumdude

        how much more attention and adoration does one person need?

    • Nathan

      I can’t see any reason Orca would get an Oscar, it’s pretty ridiculous. She should actually be banned from ever winning any kind of film award based on the fact that she was in Beloved.

  • 3reddogs

    Or maybe that “smattering of criticism” is coming from people who just can’t stand the thought of a successful black woman.

    • Steadman

      You’re an idiot.

      • Sean

        You’re an idiotic racist.

    • Exc

      Agree 100%. Where was the criticism when all those behind the scenes whites won? None of whom gave even a tenth as much to charity as oprah.

      • DaGuest

        What about the criticism when all the infront of the camera people win? Look at Portman, who clearly did not deserve it, since she did not do all the work, her double did.

        As far as honorary Oscars, Gregory Peck was deserving, since he was at the forefront of human rights, including marching with MLK.

        Oprah is worth 1 billion dollars, while Bill Gates gives away that same amount to charity ever year. Yes, a billion every year.

      • obviously an idiot

        um I agree except what you said about Portman. Are you retarded? didnt portman do all the acting or was that the double? and look up the facts before you denounce someones work 1) aronofsky himself said that the editors counted which shots had the double and they found about 15% of all ballet shots to be the double and 2) the filmmakers said that the double was mainly needed for closeups of the feet since spins are super hard and take years to learn and Portman could do em, just in wide shots and medium upper body shots. Anyways this is all kinda old, I just hate it when people say stuff like people don’t deserve their Oscar. She won didn’t she.

      • poop

        Why was there no criticism before? It’s in the article actually. Oprah has the less film credits than any of the past honorees. This has absolutely NOTHING to do with racism. I do think she deserves it though. Her humanitarian work is above and beyond that of almost anyone else in Hollywood.

    • Gary Colman

      I agree. You’re an idiot. People who pull the “race cared” should shampoo my crotch.

  • Ty

    It’s totally a ratings ploy… you would think an honorary Emmy would be more appropriate. That said – I really don’t give a hoot. If the Academy wants to give her an Oscar, fine.

  • Chelsea

    They don’t even award the Honorary Oscars during the actual telecast anymore so it’s not like the people who hate her have to sit through a speech.

    • Chelsea

      By Honorary Oscar, I mean this humanitarian award, which I assume also won’t be presented in the actual telecast. Does anyone know for sure?

      • Rubyredjewel

        The JHH Award is no longer given out at the Oscars. Oprah will get her award in Nov at the Governors Ball.

      • Just A Guy

        Yeah, I suspect that won’t be the case this year, and that they’ll give the JHH on the air.

    • Kathy

      But I bet that they would put her speech in the actual telecast , just to get a ratings boost.

  • asher

    She has been involved in films, and she is a humanitarian. There really isn’t anything to question.

  • red

    of course she’s deserving of a humanitarian award. she’s in the film business once in a while. good enough for me.

  • nn

    who cares?

  • JoeE

    She’s getting the Hersholt award, not the Thalberg, so I think it’s fitting.

  • UGH

    This is probably there way of coaxing her into hosting in the future.

  • HaHa

    They’re rewarding this overrated idiot who admitted to eating gallons of macaroni and cheese when one of her movies flopped?

    • terri

      “Overrated idiot?” Are you looking in the mirror when saying that? She was amazing in the Color Purple and put Precious out in the forefront to win a few Oscars. As for flops, I wonder what you have done when you have failed..probably many times over. Hateful comments like yours reflect someone who hasn’t succeeded much in his/her own life.

  • Beauty

    Of course she deserves it!

  • hollywoodwriter

    In retrospect, this is the academy’s way of giving her the Oscar she should have won for The Color Purple in 1985 when she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. How Angelica Huston won for Prizzi’s Honor, is still a mystery. If you watch them both, it is clear Winfrey gives the performance of a ilfetime. The academy just couldn’t wait to award Huston, since she won for a film that was directed by her ailing lengary father. If the Academy had got it right, they could have given Huston an Oscar for next nominated performance in Enemies a Love Story in 1989, where she was brillaint.

    • ^

      Then you need to go back and give awards to whoever was up against Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock for their made-for-TV roles.

      • Strepsi

        Lol — if so, that means humanitarian Oscars for Meryl Streep in “Julie & Julia” and Ellen Burstyn “Requiem for a Dream”

        Heck, let’s give a Humanitarian Oscar to Judi Dench “Iris” for losing to Halle Berry in “Monster’s Ball” ;)

      • fancypants

        Laura Linney (You Can Count on Me) or Ellen Burstyn (Requiem for A Dream) and Meryl Streep (Julie and Julia).

  • justme

    I can just imagine Oprah using her annoying intro voice…”Annnnnnnnnd the Honorary Oscar goes tooooooooooooo…meeeeee…….OOOOOPRRRRRRRRAAAHHHHHHH!!!”

  • lettergirl

    oh, oprah christ….just when i think you are going away you pop back up again. is she a humanitarian? sure. does she deserve an oscar for it? does it really matter? at this point, those awards are just gold stars in the big popularity contest that is hollywood. as long as i don’t have to listen to her on tv anymore, they can give it to one of her damn dogs for all i care.

    • anonymous

      So true!! And watch…Julia Roberts will likely present it. Julia likes to steal everyone’s thunder and show the world “hey, look who I am friends with suckers”.

  • anonymous

    Just one more thing to inflate her already huge God-like ego. I am so waiting for that OWN station to go bust, she will be SHOCKED, heehee, mean, but Oprah needs to be taken down a notch.

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