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Academy defends Oprah for honorary Oscar

Oprah Winfrey is seen in 2008. (Lefteris Pitarakis)

August 4, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The head of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is defending a decision to give Oprah Winfrey an honorary award.

The media mogul was picked to receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for giving back to the community.

"This is about a person who has come from the depths, risen to the heights and given back. That's a perfect example of why this award was created," said academy president Tom Sherak.

The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award was established shortly after the death of the actor in 1956. Previous winners include Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Quincy Jones and Jerry Lewis.

According to Sherak, the award is presented periodically when the academy's board of governors believes there is a worthy recipient.

Sherak said many philanthropists belong to the film academy, but its governors "felt very strongly" about honoring Winfrey this year despite her limited work in film.

The decision attracted criticism mostly because Winfrey is considered a TV icon - not a movie icon.

Sherak pointed out that Winfrey has in fact been nominated for an Oscar for her role in "The Color Purple" and she has produced movies.

Veteran actor James Earl Jones and makeup artist Dick Smith will receive their honorary Oscars alongside Winfrey at the Nov. 12 ceremony at the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland. The two men are being recognized for their outstanding film careers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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