Trailblazing director Euzhan Palcy returns for Oscar honor

Nov 15, 2022, 6:09 PM | Updated: Nov 16, 2022, 11:45 am
Filmmaker Euzhan Palcy poses for portrait photographs in Paris on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Palcy wi...

Filmmaker Euzhan Palcy poses for portrait photographs in Paris on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Palcy will receive an honorary Oscar at the annual Governor’s Awards gala in recognition of her contributions to motion pictures. (AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)

(AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)

              Filmmaker Euzhan Palcy poses for portrait photographs in Paris on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Palcy will receive an honorary Oscar at the annual Governor’s Awards gala in recognition of her contributions to motion pictures. (AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)
            
              Filmmaker Euzhan Palcy poses for portrait photographs in Paris on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Palcy will receive an honorary Oscar at the annual Governor’s Awards gala in recognition of her contributions to motion pictures. (AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)
            
              Filmmaker Euzhan Palcy poses for portrait photographs in Paris on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Palcy will receive an honorary Oscar at the annual Governor’s Awards gala in recognition of her contributions to motion pictures. (AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)
            
              Filmmaker Euzhan Palcy poses for portrait photographs in Paris on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Palcy will receive an honorary Oscar at the annual Governor’s Awards gala in recognition of her contributions to motion pictures. (AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)
            
              Filmmaker Euzhan Palcy poses for portrait photographs in Paris on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Palcy will receive an honorary Oscar at the annual Governor’s Awards gala in recognition of her contributions to motion pictures. (AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)
            
              Filmmaker Euzhan Palcy poses for portrait photographs in Paris on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Palcy will receive an honorary Oscar at the annual Governor’s Awards gala in recognition of her contributions to motion pictures. (AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Director Euzhan Palcy has made history more than a few times in her four decades in the movie business.

She was the first Black woman to direct a film produced by a major studio (MGM’s “A Dry White Season”), the first Black director of any gender to win the César Award in France, the first woman to win a Venice Silver Lion (for “Sugar Cane Alley”), the only woman to direct Marlon Brando and the first Black woman to direct an actor to an Oscar nomination (also Brando). She blazed trails for a generation of Black female filmmakers, from Ava DuVernay and Amma Asante to Regina Hall and Gina Prince-Bythewood, and most of the time it wasn’t easy or fun.

But she was driven by a conviction that she holds this day: “I was born to make movies.”

Now after some years away from the business, she is ready, at 64, to get behind the camera again. And what better way to start a comeback than with an Oscar? On Saturday, Palcy will get an honorary statuette at the annual Governors Awards gala, in recognition of her contributions to motion pictures. She’s being celebrated alongside Australian director Peter Weir, songwriter Diane Warren and actor Michael J. Fox, who is getting the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, at the untelevised event.

“I felt like this was the right time for me to show up again,” Palcy, from Paris, told The Associated Press. “I was ready.”

Palcy was born in Martinique, in the French West Indies, in 1958, and from age 10 had set her sights on filmmaking even though it seemed like no one who was doing it, successfully at least, looked like her. Her imagination was sparked by Marcel Camus’ “Black Orpheus” and the films of Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang and. In the mid-70s, she left for Paris, where she studied at the Sorbonne and got a master’s degree in film from the prestigious Louis-Lumière College. There she was encouraged to keep pursuing filmmaking by François Truffaut.

But she couldn’t find anyone to give her money to make her first feature, “Sugar Cane Alley,” even after she got an important grant from the French Government that would typically pique the interest of financiers. The film would be an adaptation of Joseph Zobel’s semi-autobiographical novel about Martinique in the 1930s, the Africans working the sugar cane fields and their white owners.

“I had a degree from the most famous film school in France and it was not enough,” Palcy said. “I was still Black, I was still a woman, and I was still young.”

Still, she managed to make “Sugar Cane Alley” from nothing and it went on to be a great success, winning the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival and a César for best first work. The most important thing to her, though, was that it resonated with the people of Martinique who told her they’d never seen themselves on screen before.

“Most people point it out that I was a pioneer. They say it doesn’t make you happy? And it’s not that, but it’s hard, it’s hard to be a pioneer. People think it’s a big deal and it’s great, but nothing is there and you pick a road and you pave it. That requires a lot of tenacity, a lot of fight, a lot of struggle, a lot of tears.

“I love the metaphor of a woman who is pregnant and the pregnancy is so hard on her and it’s difficult to give birth to that baby. Then once she does, she’s exhausted. That’s the way I felt when ‘Sugar Cane Alley’ came out. I couldn’t even enjoy the success of that movie,” she said. “But it made me stronger and even more determined to fight for my stories.”

Hollywood took notice and the exciting new talent behind the camera. Robert Redford invited her out to do the Sundance Director’s Lab, in 1984, and would be a sounding board as more offers came in. Life, for a moment, was a whirlwind of courting and offers.

Warner Bros. executive Lucy Fisher flew her to Los Angeles and gave her a grand welcome to try to get her to make a film with them. Palcy asked about adapting “The Color Purple,” though was politely told that Steven Spielberg had already set his sights on that. She decided on “A Dry White Season.” The film almost fell apart, though, when Warner Bros. brass decided after Universal released “Cry Freedom” that two apartheid movies was too many. MGM stepped in to make it.

Palcy has always been steadfast in her vision. Paul Newman was desperate to be in the film, but she was set on Donald Sutherland. She also convinced Brando, who had been retired for nine years, to take a role. For that, he received his eighth and final Oscar nomination.

After that, though, Hollywood became a mixed bag. She made “Ruby Bridges” for the Wonderful World of Disney and “The Killing Yard,” a TV film about the Attica Prison riot. But then about a decade ago, she decided she had to leave. She’d heard no, and that Black films don’t sell, a few too many times. And she’d been asked to make a few too many films that didn’t speak to her.

“I thought, I cannot betray my ideals,” she said. “So I thought I’d go away and put my energy into helping young filmmakers so I didn’t waste my time. I was just waiting for the right time to come back.”

In the ensuing years, she’d receive many letters and emails from people asking her where she was and why she wasn’t making films. Some of her films have gotten a second life too: “A Dry White Season” got a Criterion restoration and “Ruby Bridges” started streaming on Disney+.

“My work is not for people from yesterday,” she said. “My work is for people from the new generation.”

Then earlier this year she had a feeling that the time to come back was now. Soon after, she got an honor in France and 24 hours later got the phone call about the honorary Oscar.

“I said, ‘My God, what is happening?’ It was worth the sadness and the struggle I had inside me for not being able to do my movies,” she said.

Now she just hopes that people don’t put her in a box, thinking she’s just a “political filmmaker.”

“I want to make all kinds of movies,” she said. “I can do any genre.”

Palcy does want to make one thing clear: Though she is forthright about the struggles and adversity she faced, she wants people to know that she is also a very positive person.

“It was not a complaint,” she said. “But if they ask me about it, I will be honest.”

___

Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

murders...
Associated Press

Appeals court upholds most Eyman campaign finance violations

A Washington state Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld most of the campaign finance violations that longtime anti-tax initiative promoter Tim Eyman was found liable for last year.
16 hours ago
A Washington State Department of Agriculture worker displays an Asian giant hornet taken from a nes...
Associated Press

No northern giant hornets found in 2022 in Washington state

Citizen trapping of northern giant hornets in northwest Washington ended Nov. 30 without any confirmed sightings of the hornets this year, state officials said Tuesday.
16 hours ago
Hywind Scotland, the world's first commercial wind farm using floating wind turbines, is visible of...
Associated Press

1st US floating offshore wind auction nets $757M off Calif

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The first-ever U.S. auction of leases to develop commercial-scale floating wind farms in the deep waters off the West Coast attracted $757 million in winning bids Wednesday from mostly European companies, in a project watched by other regions and countries just getting their own plans for floating offshore wind started. The […]
16 hours ago
Dozens of candles are laid on the sidewalk, along with bouquets of flowers and stuffed animals outs...
Associated Press

Deputy who killed teen’s family was on psych hold in 2016

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia sheriff’s deputy who killed the family members of a 15-year-old California girl he tried to sexually extort online had been detained in 2016 for a psychiatric evaluation over threats to kill himself and his father, years before he joined law enforcement, according to a police report. That raises new […]
16 hours ago
FILE - In this image from video, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell, gives rebuttal during closing argument...
Associated Press

Key Derek Chauvin prosecutor confirmed as federal judge

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The U.S. Senate has confirmed Jerry Blackwell — one of the prosecutors who helped convict a former Minneapolis police officer of murder in the killing of George Floyd — as the next federal judge in Minnesota. Blackwell is a Minneapolis attorney and a founding partner of the law firm Blackwell Burke. He […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

UN body accredits 9 rights, minority groups after US push

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — After years of delay, the U.N. body overseeing economic development and social issues voted Wednesday to give nine human rights and minority groups the right to raise concerns and participate in its discussions, overriding objections from Russia, China, India, Arab nations and others. The Economic and Social Council approved a U.S. […]
16 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Trailblazing director Euzhan Palcy returns for Oscar honor