Acclaimed director Euzhan Palcy was awarded an honorary Oscar for her many contributions to the film industry, reports Deadline.
At the 13th Annual Governors Awards of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences held on Saturday, Palcy was hailed as a trailblazer for breaking the glass ceiling for Black women filmmakers.
During the ceremony, Ava DuVernay appeared in a video tribute and Viola Davis gave a powerful introduction to honor Palcy.
“As a Black woman artist, I feel like I’m always defending my womanhood and Blackness,” Davis said. “You did not defend your Blackness. You did not defend your womanhood. You used it as warrior fuel.”
In her acceptance speech, Palcy reflected on her remarkable career and how being the “first” always comes with challenges.
“I was so tired of being told I was a pioneer,” she continued. “I was so tired of hearing praise for being the first of too many firsts.”
“I stepped back so I could truly stand up and stand tall,” she continued. “I kept my silence because I was exhausted…I had lost my willingness to hear those words: ‘Black is not bankable, female is not bankable. Black and female is not bankable,’” she said pointing at Davis.
Born in Martinique in the French West Indies, Palcy knew she wanted to be a filmmaker from an early age. She earned a master’s degree in French literature, in theater, at the Sorbonne, a D.E.A. in Art and Archeology,y and a film degree specializing in cinematography from Louis Lumière College
Her first feature, Sugar Cane Alley was released in 1983 and was shot for less than $1 million. The film chronicles life on a Martinique sugar cane plantation through the eyes of a young boy during the 1930s. Eventually, the film went on to win over 17 international awards including the Venice Film Festival Silver Lion and the César Award for Best First Feature Film. In an interview with the Associated Press, Palcy detailed how Sugar Cane Alley was a labor of love.
“I love the metaphor of a woman who is pregnant and the pregnancy is so hard on her and it’s difficult to give birth to that baby. Then once she does, she’s exhausted. That’s the way I felt when Sugar Cane Alley came out. I couldn’t even enjoy the success of that movie,” she said. “But it made me stronger and even more determined to fight for my stories.”
In 1989, she directed A Dry White Season becoming the first Black woman to have a film produced by a major Hollywood studio and the first Black director to direct an actor to an Oscar nomination. After nine years, Marlon Brando came out of retirement to star in the film and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Palcy went on to direct several films, documentaries and television specials including The Wonderful World of Disney’s Ruby Bridges and The Killing Yard.
Concluding her acceptance speech, Palcy said that her artistic vision is to bring healing to the masses by coming to terms with the truth.
“I was not behind the camera, doing what God put me on this earth to do: aim my camera, my miraculous weapon, as I call it, to bring our collective humanity into focus on the screen,” Palcy said during her acceptance speech. “With my camera, I don’t shoot, I heal.”