Euzhan Palcy, the Martinican director of Sugar Cane Alley (Rue Cases-Nègres) and A Dry White Season (Une saison blanche et sèche), will receive an Honorary Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, commemorating her career at the 13th edition of the Governors Awards, on November 19, 2022
She will be the first Black woman director to receive this award. This year’s other honorees include composer Diane Warren, director Peter Weir and actor Michael J. Fox, who will receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
Euzhan Palcy is a pioneering filmmaker who has led a revolutionary career of firsts, paving the way for a new era of cinema in which the voices and anger of women and Black communities are heard. She was awarded the Legion of Honor, France’s highest award.
Notably encouraged by François Truffaut, she shot her first feature film in 1983 at the age of 24, Sugar Cane Alley, about Africans working on a sugar cane plantation in 1930s Martinique. This film won a Venice Film Festival Award and a César Award, making her the first Black director and woman director to win these awards. Six years later, with A Dry White Season, which strongly denounced the racist regime in South Africa and particularly the actions of its police, she made history again by becoming the first Black woman to be produced by a major Hollywood studio. Marlon Brando was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for his role in this feature.
After making this anti-apartheid film, the only one to have been shot during the years of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment, the reaction of the South African regime was so vehement that her production company, MGM, had to hire bodyguards to protect her.
With A Dry White Season, her ambition was to create what she calls “cinema verité,” a method of cinematic storytelling that does not betray reality and led her to travel to Soweto under a false identity to investigate the riots and interview the victims—stories that have profoundly affected her. Her search for truth also led her to work with non-professional actors, whether they were sugar plantation workers in Sugar Cane Alley or people who had lived through apartheid in A Dry White Season.
Also a documentary filmmaker, Palcy directed a trilogy about Aimé Césaire in 1994, Aimé Césaire: A Voice for History, a film that launched France’s National Tribute to Aimé Cesaire at the Pantheon.
In addition, her feature film Simeon (1992) was part of the Cannes Classics official selection in 2013 to celebrate Aimé Césaire’s centenary of birth. In 2006, her documentary on Antillean resistance fighters, Le Parcours de Dissidents, raised awareness that triggered the beginning of a national tribute by France to these forgotten heroes.
She is currently developing a new feature film project about Bessie Coleman, the first African American woman to receive a pilot’s license in 1921 from the Ecole des Frères Caudron, in Le Crotoy, France. This inspiring and pioneering figure tragically died in a plane crash in 1926 at the age of 34. Working closely with Coleman’s family, Palcy made a seven-minute teaser using computer animation to represent the heroic moment “Queen Bess” earned her license, introducing this significant project that has been close to her heart for a long time.