General News

Spielberg's a Lifer

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Mar 19, 2001 | 11:50am EST

Steven Spielberg is no D.W. Griffith. And according to the Directors Guild of America, that's not a bad thing at all.

Spielberg, the two-time Oscar-winning uber-filmmaker, has been tapped to receive the DGA's first-ever D.W. Griffith-less lifetime achievement honor. The "ET" blockbuster-meister is due to be feted at the 52nd Annual DGA Awards on March 11 in Los Angeles.

The presentation will mark the first time since its inception in 1953 that the organization's lifetime achievement award has not been given in the name of legendary filmmaker D.W. Griffith. In December, the director's union announced its intentions to distance itself from the director of Hollywood's landmark -- but arguably racist -- epic "Birth of a Nation" (1915). The Civil War era-set film, the forerunner of the modern-day feature, depicted the birth of the Ku Klux Klan in a heroic light.

"There is no question that D.W. Griffith was a brilliant pioneer filmmaker whose innovations as a visionary film artist led the way for generations of directors," the DGA said in a statement last year. "However, it is also true that he helped foster intolerable racial stereotypes."

With Griffith erased from the honor, Spielberg will instead receive the renamed Lifetime Achievement Award. Francis Ford Coppola becomes the last director to receive the Griffith -- being handed the award-show hardware in 1998.

At 52, Spielberg still has a lot of directing ahead of him (including the much-anticipated "Minority Report" project with Tom Cruise), but he clearly has a lot of directing behind him, too. The most commercially successful filmmaker of the 20th century, Spielberg made his feature debut with 1973's "The Sugarland Express." His next film -- 1975's "Jaws" -- made his career and began his rep as a hit-meister. Along the way, Spielberg has won two directing Oscars (for 1993's "Schindler's List" and 1998's "Saving Private Ryan") and three DGA awards for outstanding direction in a feature film (for 1985's "The Color Purple," "Schindler's List" and "Private Ryan").

In all, the DGA's Griffith was awarded 28 times -- to the likes of Orson Welles, Frank Capra and Alfred Hitchcock. D. W. Griffith, the person, died in 1948. Among his other works: "Intolerance." "

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