LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Veteran actor-turned-activist Harry Belafonte received an honorary Oscar for his humanitarian work Saturday, at a star-studded Hollywood gala which also paid tribute to three other cinematic icons.
Belafonte was given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, while Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere and Irish actress Maureen O’Hara were given honorary awards.
“Artists are the radical voice of civilisation,” the 87-year-old told the two-hour Governors Awards event in the Dolby Theatre, where the Oscars are held every year.
“I really wish I could be around for the rest of this century, to see what Hollywood does with the rest of the century. Maybe, just maybe, it could be civilisation’s game changer,” he said.
Among those paying tribute to him was British director Steve McQueen, whose “12 Years a Slave” won the Best Picture Academy Award earlier this year.
“He basically took those powers of celebrity and fame, and used them for a bigger cause than just his own,” McQueen told AFP.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences also bestowed honorary lifetime awards on Miyazaki, Carriere and O’Hara.
When away from the spotlight, Belafonte spent much of his life campaigning for various causes such as education, famine relief, children, AIDS awareness and civil rights.
His films such as “Carmen Jones”, “Odds Against Tomorrow” and “The World, the Flesh and the Devil” helped portray the injustices of racism and inequality.
He was an early supporter of the civil rights movement and marched alongside Martin Luther King, Jr in his heyday. He was also named a UNICEF goodwill ambassador in 1987.