Career Achievement

Hou Hsiao-Hsien

What is time? Months of isolation have prompted many of us to ask that question with some despair of late, but Hou Hsiao-Hsien, as usual, can provide some distance, some perspective and even some consolation.

Over his extraordinary 40-year career, from his early days as a pioneering figure in New Taiwanese Cinema to his canonization among the world’s greatest living filmmakers, Hou has pondered the mystery of how to represent time on screen: how to situate the camera within the fleeting moment, and the era to which it belongs, without compromising the integrity of either. And he has answered it, again and again, with exquisite beauty, sly narrative invention and a formal rigor that is nonetheless beguilingly playful, always curious and open to the larger world. (The larger world has slowly taken notice: Hou’s films have been woefully underseen in this country, but that hasn’t hindered their influence on great American auteurs like Jim Jarmusch and Barry Jenkins.)

Hou’s eye is both modest and ravishing. His elegant long takes situate us within everyday realities —a gangsters’ melancholy idyll in Goodbye South, Goodbye,a woman’s Tokyo drift in Café Lumière — even as they circle abstract, seemingly unrepresentable subjects. His masterly historical panoramas, like A City of Sadness and The Puppetmaster, tell wrenchingly specific human stories that also embody, in their very form, the restlessness and fragmentation of Taiwanese identity.

But temporal and cultural boundaries are no boundaries for Hou, as anyone who has swooned at the ninth-century palace intrigues of The Assassin or the opium-shrouded liaisons of Flowers of Shanghai will attest. A time-traveling poet of dislocation, he is also one of the medium’s premier sensualists: Can any other filmmaker summon the distant past and render it more palpably present? Or make the modern world seem so entrancingly strange, as he does in Flight of the Red Balloon? (Or manage both in the same film, as he does in Three Times?) Hypnotic and exacting, concrete and evanescent, Hou’s work abounds in such casual paradoxes. Another word for them might be miracles.

— Justin Chang

Harry Belafonte

To be a Black Hollywood actor during Harold George Belafonte’s day was to be an activist by default, regardless of whether or not you wanted to be one. But Harry Belafonte famously “wasn’t an artist who became an activist. [He] was an activist who became an artist,” and he has spent his life unapologetically affirming the humanity of Black people onscreen and in everyday life. Currently in his 10th decade, he has adeptly blurred the lines between art and activism — on and off the screen, in public and in private. In a year where America’s racial reckoning breached a critical juncture, the LAFCA membership heartily honors his significant and enduring contributions not only to a number of movements for social change, but to the expansion of our concepts of whose stories are worth telling in Hollywood.

Belafonte made his film debut in 1953 opposite actress Dorothy Dandridge in Bright Road whose all-Black cast, said one reviewer at the time,refused to “accommodate itself to an audience’s ready-made ideas” about who Black Americans were. Since then Belafonte has acted in more than a dozen feature films, including most recently Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman (2018). When Carmen Jones became a box office success in 1954, it was unprecedented for a film to earnestly depict a Black man and a Black woman in love. Belafonte also broke new ground in playing opposite leading ladies like Joan Fontaine and Inger Stevens, when the mere image of a Black man — let alone one so charismatic, handsome — in romantic proximity to a white woman was seen as a threat and frequently a crime. 

In 1960, Belafonte became the first African American to win an Emmy, for the television special The Revlon Revue: Tonight with Harry Belafonte. In 1968, Johnny Carson invited him to host The Tonight Show for a one-week run.  The musician, actor, producer and philanthropist used his national platform to highlight some of the great artists and thinkers of the Civil Rights era including Lena Horne, Paul Newman, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. It must also be said that his willingness to speak truth to power was not without professional and personal consequences, and we honor the sacrifices he made for the greater good as another important part of his legacy. 

So Mr. B, we thank you. For your artistic choices across mediums, your boldness and your leadership, for mightily helping to tow the burden of Black representation and liberation on your own terms, for finding a way to make work that not only allowed you to survive, but to thrive in a world where neither has ever been assured.


— Beandrea July