‘I’m extremely grateful’ Wes Studi receives honorary Oscar for his 30+ years in the film industry

Wes Studi, Cherokee, joins Directors David Lynch, Lina Wertmüller and actor Geena Davis as one of four 2019 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences award recipients

On Monday, Wes Studi, Cherokee, the first Native American actor to host a segment of the Academy Awards, was selected as one of four film industry icons to be given an honorary Oscar for his body of work over the past three decades.

In a tweet of thanks, Studi said, "I am deeply honored and humbled. I finally get to say "I'd like to thank the Academy..."

The other recipients are directors David Lynch and Lina Wertmüller and actor Geena Davis. Studi, Lynch, and Wertmüller will receive honorary Oscars and Davis will be awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at an awards event in Hollywood on Oct. 27.

As described in a release by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences:

“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,” said Academy President John Bailey in the release. “It is with great pleasure that we announce this year’s recipients.”

Wes Studi told Indian Country Today that discussions about the possibility of an honorary Oscar came about when one of the governors of the Academy, director Gregory Nava (Selena, Frida) got in touch with him to inquire about nominating Studi.

“Gregory said he had the idea to nominate me for one of these Governor Awards. At first I thought, ‘For what?’ Gregory said, ‘For your body of work,’” said Studi.

“At first I thought I hadn't even really done anything recently that merited such an award. I was leaning more towards receiving an Oscar based upon a specific performance. However, I thought about it and I said, ‘Wait a minute, I do have a body of work that I think qualifies and I said okay.

In the Academy release, the organization recognized the lifetime of efforts by Studi with the following description:

“Studi is a Cherokee-American actor who has appeared in more than 30 films, becoming known for portraying strong Native American characters with poignancy and authenticity. Born and raised in Nofire Hollow, Oklahoma, Studi became deeply involved with Native American politics and activism after a tour of military service in Vietnam. He began his acting career with the American Indian Theater Company and his first film role in the independent feature “Powwow Highway” (1989) led to a memorable appearance in “Dances with Wolves” (1990). He has since co-starred in such films as “The Last of the Mohicans” (1992), “Geronimo: An American Legend” (1993), “Heat” (1995), “The New World” (2005) and “Avatar” (2009).”

Wes Studi in a still from 'Geronimo: An American Legend'
Wes Studi in a still from 'Geronimo: An American Legend'

Studi says he is glad to see that more people of color are being recognized as the industry continues to grow. “I felt appreciative, and I do realize that years ago the Academy had been showing efforts to increase diversity. That is a great thing to see.”

Studi also said he was excited to find out about the award when the Academy President John Bailey called him. But noted it was funny that he couldn’t tell anyone when he was amidst a lot of people in the film industry.

“On Saturday, I was on a set in Valencia, California shooting a western called Badlands, I received the call from the president of the academy and he told me they would like to honor me with a Governor's award. So I said, ‘of course.’ They said to hold off on telling anybody, and here I was around a bunch of show business people and I couldn't tell anyone.”

Hostiles is a movie about the world of American soldiers, white settlers, American Indians and the world that surrounded them all in 1892. Among the most notable Native actors in the film is Wes Studi, who portrays the Cheyenne Chief Yellowhawk.
Hostiles is a movie about the world of American soldiers, white settlers, American Indians and features Wes Studi, who portrays the Cheyenne Chief Yellowhawk.Vincent Schilling

On Monday, Studi told Indian Country Today he was grateful when they made the announcement.

“This is for my body of work. I am extremely grateful to be given this award. I think of Buffy Sainte-Marie of course. Overall, I still don't think we are there quite yet in terms of winning an Oscar for a specific performance. It's a great honor to be offered and to accept this award. And as Native people, we are taking steps towards recognition for our efforts.”

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Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling and Instagram - @VinceSchilling

Email - vschilling@indiancountrytoday.com

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

Amazing what a fine actor Wes Studi is. There are very few performers with his combination of stage presence, charm, and obvious intelligence.

Of the several works I've seen him in, I think I was most interested in his performance as the remarkably important but rather mysterious historical character Wovoka, prophet of the Ghost Dance, in "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee." I imagine his interpretation might be considered controversial, and would be interested to know how well it was received.