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Vietnam vet Wes Studi first Native American to receive Oscar Honorary Award for lifetime achievement

Actor Wes Studi at CayFilm 2015. (Tonymark26/Wikimedia Commons)

Longtime actor Wes Studi, Cherokee, has become the first Native American to be awarded an Oscar.

Known for prominent portrayals in “Dances with Wolves,” “Last of the Mohicans” and “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” among many others, Studi is one of four Honorary Award recipients chosen by the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The Board of Governors announced on Monday that Studi, filmmaker David Lynch and director Lina Wertmüller would receive the awards, along with a Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award going to actress Geena Davis.

The awards are reserved for contributions that fall outside the normal Oscar categories, the Academy says on its website.

The Oscar statuette is given “to honor extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement, exceptional contributions to the state of motion picture arts and sciences, or for outstanding service to the Academy,” the Academy said.

The award marks a milestone for indigenous peoples in Hollywood. There have been Native American acting nominees — Graham Greene for “Dances With Wolves,” Chief Dan George for “Little Big Man” — and Buffy Sainte-Marie shared an Original Song Oscar for “Up Where We Belong” from “An Officer And A Gentleman,” but other than that, no one has ever won, noted

Most famously, back in 1973 Marlon Brando turned down his Oscar award for “The Godfather” because of Hollywood’s stereotypical treatment of Native peoples. Brando sent Sacheen Littlefeather, Apache, in his place to explain the reasons for his rejection, as BBC News and other outlets recounted.

Studi, too, made Oscar history just last year, when he introduced a tribute to movies featuring military servicemen and women, speaking in Cherokee, during the 90th Academy Awards, reported The Oklahoman.

Upon his Oscar win, Studi, 71, expressed gratitude.

“I am deeply honored and humbled,” Studi tweeted. “I finally get to say, ‘I’d like to thank the Academy.’ ”

Likewise, fans and Native artists hailed it as a first.

“Bravo! Well-deserved and long overdue, sir!” tweeted one user. “I was just watching ‘Last of the Mohicans’ for the umpteenth time last weekend, and your work in that film alone still takes my breath away.”

“Hard earned. You slay every role I’ve ever saw you act in,” wrote another. “Even your small part on Saraphim Falls was brilliant… really the reason why I remember the movie.”

Studi’s film career has spanned three decades and he has acted in 30-plus films, “becoming known for portraying strong Native American characters with poignancy and authenticity,” the Academy said in a statement.

The 71-year-old Studi, a Vietnam veteran, has been a political activist for just as long. Beginning his career in the American Indian Theater Company, he went on to play in the movie “Powwow Highway” in 1989 before moving on to memorable roles in “Dances with Wolves” (1990), “The Last of the Mohicans” (1992), “Geronimo: An American Legend” (1993), “Heat” (1995), “The New World” (2005) and “Avatar” (2009).

He currently appears in “A Dog’s Way Home,” released in January, and has several other projects in the pipeline.

Davis, an Oscar-winning actress for her supporting role in “The Accidental Tourist,” “has been a passionate advocate for gender equality in media,” the Academy said. She also founded and chairs the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, “a nonprofit dedicated to educating and influencing film and television content creators to eliminate gender bias and stereotypes and create a wide variety of female characters in entertainment and media aimed at children,” the statement said.

Davis is also prominent in efforts to get gender-equality rights recognized worldwide. Other memorable movie roles include her Oscar-nominated turn in “Thelma & Louise” (1991), “The Fly” (1986), “Beetlejuice” (1988) and “A League of Their Own” (1992).

Lynch, 73, is an acclaimed filmmaker, musician and artist, starting with “Eraserhead” in 1977, the eight-nominee from 1980 “The Elephant Man,” Blue Velvet (1986), Mulholland Drive (2001) and many others.

Wertmüller, 90, was a pioneer for women, as the first female Academy Award nominee for best director, for “Seven Beauties” in 1976. She wrote and directed several notable films, including “Swept Away” in 1974.

The four will be honored Oct. 27 at the Academy’s 11th Annual Governors Awards.

“These Governors Awards given by the Academy each year recognize individuals who have devoted themselves to a lifetime of artistic accomplishment and brought outstanding contributions to our industry, and beyond,” Academy President John Bailey said in a media release.


© 2019 New York Daily News

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