*Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Tom Sherak is defending the decision to give Oprah Winfrey the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
The Internet was rife with complaints over the selection after it was announced earlier this week.
“Does this newly announced Academy prize prove that Oprah means the same thing to Hollywood as past Jean Hersholt Award winners Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Lew Wasserman, Charlton Heston?” NWFCC chair Armond White, who voted for Winfrey in the 1986 National Society of Film Critics Awards and the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, asked The Hollywood Reporter rhetorically earlier this week. “Is this just another way for the academy to continue to grovel for TV ratings?”
Sherak says the OWN CEO, who has given away more than $500 million personally, plus more through her talk show, scholarship funds and her Angel Network, is “one of the most philanthropic performers in the world.”
“Oprah has given and given and given,” he tells the Associated Press. “She’s a member of the academy, she was nominated for an Academy Award and she has produced movies. This is not about personality. This is about a person who has come from the depths, risen to the heights and given back. That’s a perfect example of why this award was created.”
Sherak says there are a number of philanthropists who are members of the film academy, but the governors “felt very strongly” about giving the award to Winfrey this year even though she has limited work in film.
“We have a lot of people who are TV people who have made movies,” he said. “It doesn’t matter that they do other things… She is definitely one of us. What really counts is her contribution to humanity.”
Sherak says the award “exemplifies giving back to the community, the world, society in an extraordinary way.”
James Earl Jones and makeup artist Dick Smith will also be honored at the non-televised Governors Award on Nov. 12. Moments from the show may be included in the Oscars on Feb 2012.