Many were surprised and/or upset that the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award was going to be handed to a television – not film – personality. Although Oprah Winfrey did receive a Best Supporting Oscar nomination for Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple back in 1985, her participation in the world of filmmaking has been at best marginal, e.g., a lead in Beloved, a producing credit for Precious, doing voice-over in The Princess and the Frog and Bee Movie. (Not that anyone asked me, but ... my choice for the recipient of this year's humanitarian film award would have been Hugh Grant, for his efforts in trying to save the world from Rupert Murdoch and his minions.)
Winfrey, who reportedly wiped away a tear while receiving praise from a speaker onstage, later took to the podium with a message straight out of Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life: “Your life matters. You matter. What you do matters.” (Not that I or anyone could disagree. What Winfrey said is both true and self-evident. For better or for worse.)
While onstage, Winfrey also plugged potential Oscar contender The Help through one of those inspirational speeches that pepper (or plague) award shows. She told the crowd that her mother and grandmother had been maids just like the black women in the Tate Taylor film, thus reminding them that one granddaughter of a black Southern maid has become a billionaire talk-show hostess.
Tom Sherak's only mention of the Brett Ratner/Eddie Murphy to-do was asking the crowd, "How was your week?" Sherak also paid a brief tribute to Oscar producers Laura Ziskin and Gilbert Cates, both of whom have died in the last few months.
Oprah Winfrey photo: Todd Wawrychuk / © Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.