With films like The Woman King, Till and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever showcasing powerful stories about Black women, it’s past time that the pioneers and game changers of the industry are recognized for the road they paved leading up o this moment. After a long absence from Hollywood, groundbreaking filmmaker Euzhan Palcy is finally receiving her overdue, hard-earned flowers from the movie world. On Saturday night, the Martinique-born director was among the artists honored at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Governors Awards.
Palcy received an honorary Oscar for her impact and contribution to the film business. After being the first Black woman to direct a major studio film with 1989’s A Dry White Season, Palcy was repeatedly rejected and told her ideas were “too Black.” This familiar refrain led the filmmaker to step away from making movies.
“I was so tired of being told I was a pioneer,” Palcy said in her acceptance speech. “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 added. “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.’”
Viola Davis presented Palcy with her award and Ava DuVernay appeared in a video tribute to celebrate the honoree’s influence on Black women filmmakers.
“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.”
Palcy’s time away from making movies is the clearest signal of how little Hollywood has valued Black women over the years. None of her white male contemporaries like Quentin Tarantino or Tim Burton would have been treated with the disrespect she suffered. She was forced to give up her art for a decade simply because she was exhausted with the BS that so many of us are very familiar with.
“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.”
However, she also showed grace to the Academy, praising the organization “for helping to lead the charge to change our industry and for opening the doors that were closed to the ideas and visions that I championed for so long.”
She continued: “It encourages me to raise my voice again, to offer you movies of all genres that I always wanted to make in my own way, without having my voice censored or silenced.”
Palcy was honored alongside 13-time Oscar-nominated songwriter Diane Warren, director Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society, The Truman Show) and Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award winner Michael J. Fox.