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Governors Awards: Academy bestows honors, announces new diversity initiative

Governors Awards: Academy bestows honors, announces new diversity initiative
From left, Will Smith, Wesley Snipes, Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson congratulate filmmaker Spike Lee (in glasses) on his honorary Oscar. (Chris Pizzello/Invision)

Opening the seventh annual Governors Awards on Saturday evening in Hollywood, film academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs pointed to the event's guests of honor -- actresses Gena Rowlands and Debbie Reynolds and filmmaker Spike Lee -- noting she was "pleased that this year two of our honorees happen to be women and one an African American man."

Boone Isaacs followed those words with a proposed course of action, announcing a new academy initiative, A20/20, a five-year plan that calls for an "industry-wide commitment" to partner with the academy to "hire, mentor, encourage and promote talent in all areas of our profession."

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Academy members filling the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center applauded Boone Isaacs' sentiments, which followed an initial stand of solidarity with the people of France following the recent attacks in Paris.

But the overall vibe during the untelevised evening, which the academy established in 2009 to split off its honorary awards, was relaxed and convivial, with Hollywood's old guard meeting and greeting new members as well as actors and filmmakers looking to win voters' favor this year.

So you had scenes like Will Smith zeroing in on cinematographer Roger Deakins ("I'm a total Deakins groupie," Smith said) and then turning around to find 9-year-old "Room" star Jacob Tremblay tapping his shoulder to tell him how much he liked "Men in Black." ("You weren't even born yet," Smith told the youngster, who had otherwise spent the cocktail hour playing Minecraft on his phone.)

"Trainwreck" star Amy Schumer, having just flown in from headlining a Florida State University homecoming event, praised filmmaker (and tablemate) Danny Boyle, while noting her appreciation that the evening was a candlelit dinner. ("This lighting is the only possible way I can look good right now," she said.)

Ice Cube accepted congratulations from the "OGs of Hollywood." Real-life couple Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz bowed before movie couple Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay from the upcoming drama "45 Years." And just about every actress in the room, including Cate Blanchett, Lily Tomlin and Laura Linney, paid their respects to honoree Rowlands.

"Gena Rowlands was always completely truthful," Carey Mulligan said before the ceremony. "And she was never remotely concerned with vanity. She's been a huge inspiration for my career."

Rowlands, celebrated for her collaborations with her actor-director husband John Cassavetes in movies like "A Woman Under the Influence" and "Gloria," accepted her Oscar from her son, filmmaker Nick Cassavetes, who directed her in "The Notebook."

"What's great about being an actress is you don't just live one life, you live many lives," Rowlands said.

Reynolds, unable to attend because of health, received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. Jane Fonda and Meryl Streep feted the actress for her acting career as well as her work in promoting awareness of mental health issues and preserving Hollywood memorabilia. Zooey Deschanel sang the wistful "Tammy," a No. 1 hit for Reynolds in 1957.

Reynolds' granddaughter, Billie Lourd, accepted the Oscar, saying she thought Reynolds would put the statue "in a place she's always secretly saved for it. I think it's next to the ruby slippers."

Lee's honorary Oscar brought the evening full circle with the filmmaker echoing Boone Isaac's opening sentiments about the pressing need to promote diversity within Hollywood. After being introduced by three of his leading men -- Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes and Samuel L. Jackson -- Lee delivered a 17-minute speech that took in the entirety of his life and career.

At one point, Lee remembered his parents telling him that he had to be 10 times better than his white college classmates in order to excel.

"Nothing's changed," Washington said.

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"It's easier to be the president of the United States as a black person than to be the head of a studio," Lee added.

"Everybody in here probably voted for [Barack] Obama, but when I go to offices,  I see no black folks except brotherman and the security guard who checks my name on the list as I go into the studio," Lee said. "We need to have some serious discussion about diversity and get some flava up in this."

Follow me on Twitter @glennwhipp

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