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What is an Academy Honorary Award? And why not just give Samuel L Jackson and Diane Warren an actual Oscar?

Samuel L Jackson has an honorary Oscar. (Reuters: Carlos Barria)

During this year's Oscars ceremony, songwriter Diane Warren and actor Samuel L Jackson were introduced as honorary Oscar winners.

It got people on social media talking.

Many people wondered what an honorary Oscar winner actually is.

With an incident-free 95th academy awards ceremony following last year's slap, the concept of an honorary Oscar is one of the things that is dominating the conversation this year.

So, what is an honorary Oscar? And why not just give someone an Oscar?

What is an honorary Oscar?

An Academy Honorary Award is given for the following reasons:

  • Lifetime achievements (although this isn't to be confused with a lifetime achievement award. Honorary Oscars are not called lifetime achievement awards by the Academy.)
  • Exceptional contributions to motion picture arts and sciences
  • Outstanding service to the Academy

They are not necessarily awarded every year and are at the discretion of the board of governors. Sometimes an honorary Oscar is a statuette presented during an Oscars ceremony. But quite often, they're not given out during the annual telecast.

They aren't always a statue either. They could take the form of any design chosen by the board of governors, including a life membership to the Academy, a scroll, a medal or a certificate.

So, why not just give someone an Oscar? It used to be that the honorary award was presented to honour a filmmaker when no specific category existed, just like animator Chuck Jones in 1995.

While animated films have always been eligible for other awards like Best Picture, the specific category for Best Animated Feature was only first given out in 2002.

While many Twitter users are only now learning that honorary Oscars exist, they've actually been a thing since the former president of the Screen Actors Guild George Murphy got one in 1950 at the 23rd Academy Awards. Before that, they were referred to as the Special Award and were first given out in 1929, when the Oscars began.

When did Samuel L Jackson and Diane Warren get their honorary Oscars?

Jackson was awarded an honorary Oscar in 2021 as part of the 94th Academy Awards. He's never won a competitive Oscar despite being nominated in 1995 for his highly celebrated role in Pulp Fiction.

While Songwriter Diane Warren has been nominated for an Oscar many times, she received an honorary Oscar in 2022 and actually received a competitive nomination the same year.

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