Most — though definitely not all — male winners of Honorary Oscars for career achievement merited their statuettes because, whether or not you or I admire their acting or directorial or producing or screenwriting skills, they hold an indelible place in motion picture history. But if gender-related prejudices haven’t played a role in the selection of honorees, why hasn’t the Academy been able to find more women deserving of that same recognition?
* I didn’t include the numerous special Oscars given to individuals for specific achievements (e.g., to William Cameron Menzies for his work with color in Gone with the Wind), or in recognition for "contributions" to the Academy. The latter Honorary Awards were "Thank You" — not career — Oscars.
In any case, with one exception — Onna White, who won for her choreography for Oliver! in 1968 — all other such Honorary winners were men. Miniature Oscars given to child stars were also left out.
† As a small sample, I should add that for the current 2011-2012 period, the Academy’s 43-member Board of Governors has six women: actress Annette Bening, director Kathryn Bigelow, editor Anne V. Coates, art director Rosemary Brandenburg, producer Gale Anne Hurd, and publicist Cheryl Boone Isaacs). Additionally, AMPAS CEO Dawn Hudson is a Board of Governors Officer.
Also, in the Academy’s 85-year-history only two of its presidents were women: Bette Davis (1941, for two months before being forced to resign) and Fay Kanin (1979-1983). And as mentioned in the above paragraph, Dawn Hudson is the Academy’s current CEO.
Past male AMPAS presidents include actor-producer Douglas Fairbanks; actors Jean Hersholt, Gregory Peck, Karl Malden, and Conrad Nagel; directors Frank Capra, Frank Lloyd, Arthur Hiller, Robert Wise, and George Seaton; producers Walter Wanger, Walter Mirisch, and Arthur Freed; and screenwriter Daniel Taradash. The Academy’s current president is Tom Sherak.
‡ Several of those 36 actors also performed other cinematic duties, such as directing or producing films. But their Honorary Oscars were undeniably a direct result of their activities in front of the camera.
± According to the Los Angeles Times, out of 5,100 “confirmed” members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’s 6,000-strong membership, 94 percent are white and 77 percent are male. Their median age is 62 years old. Most of them — though percentage figures were unavailable in the paper — live on the Los Angeles Westside (I’m using the term loosely here), an area stretching from the Hollywood Hills to Malibu, including Studio City, Sherman Oaks, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Brentwood, Bel Air, Westwood, West Los Angeles, Holmby Hills, Century City, Marina del Rey, and Pacific Palisades.