It may outwardly have the look and feel of other awards shows, especially occurring as it does in the midst of the winter awards season, but the Humanitas Prize ceremonies hold a special place in the hearts of the Hollywood creative community.
The message of the prizes bestowed by the nonprofit organization Humanitas to those who create television programs and films exploring our common humanity is perhaps more resonant in these times than ever.
It was especially poignant that the 43rd annual awards held at the Beverly Hilton came Feb. 16, just two days after 17 innocent people, most of them students, were killed in the Parkland, Fla., school shooting.
The Humanitas Prizes are supported by most of the major networks, agencies and studios — and many of the recipients donate their prize money to nonprofit organizations, the majority of which focus on supporting aspiring artists, musicians, writers and filmmakers.
This year, for the first time, every single winner donated their prize money, totaling $75,000, to organizations including the Writers Guild Foundation, Young Storytellers and Inner City Arts.
Also for the first time, the feature film prizes were divided into genre, with awards presented in drama, comedy and family film.
The drama prize produced a tie between “Mudbound” and “The Post.”
“We got reminded of what our world actually is with the Florida school shooting tragedy,” said “The Post” co-writer Liz Hannah, who originally wrote the screenplay focused on Washington Post owner Katharine Graham on spec. “We have the opportunity to help children dream a new reality.” Co-writer Josh Singer told the audience he was inspired by “The West Wing,” a show on which he later worked, and by John Sacret Young, who was honored earlier in the evening with the prestigious Kieser Award.
The Humanitas Prize was created in 1974 by Father Ellwood “Bud” Kieser to celebrate television programs that affirm the dignity of people, explore the meaning of life and enlighten the concept of human freedom. It later expanded to include theater productions, feature films and documentaries along with children’s programming in both live action and animation. The organization also awards scholarships and grants to writers in television and in theater.
“Lady Bird” received the feature comedy award and “Ferdinand” won the family prize.
The top television prizes were for 30- and 60-minute programs. An episode of CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory” called “The Long Distance Dissonance” was awarded the half-hour prize, a category whose other contenders included episodes of “black-ish” and “Will & Grace.”
The 60-minute Humanitas Prize was awarded to the pilot episode of “The Good Doctor,” which stars Freddie Highmore as a young surgeon dealing with the challenges of his autism and Savant syndrome.
Executive Director Kathleen Young began the evening with a strong message to the audience assembled at the hotel’s Wilshire ballroom. “We must combat racism, misogyny and so many lies. At Humanitas, we believe that when millions of people see ‘The Post,’ they will see why a free press is vital to our society,” she said. “’Gook’ reminds us that we were all immigrants. When people see ‘Human Flow,’ it reminds us that people just want to raise their children in peace. Stories like these break down the walls of ignorance and hate and that’s why we honor them.”
Playwright Sarah Gubbins emceed the ceremonies and provided some lighter moments interspersed with the evening’s more serious messages. Speaking about the Amazon series she co-wrote with Jill Soloway, “I Love Dick,” she said it was also known as “We Are Very Fond of Richard” — when talking to her young nieces and nephews.
“Homogeneity is boring,” Gubbins said. “The power writers have to shape society, expand the understanding of our troubled past and the present and to practice empathy for those who may not have a voice — as well as opening our hearts and minds — that’s the power we have.”
Here is the list of film and TV winners:
Feature Film, Drama (Tie)
Mudbound, screenplay by Virgil Williams and Dee Rees
The Post, written by Liz Hannah & Josh Singer
Feature Film, Comedy
Lady Bird, written by Greta Gerwig
Feature Film, Family
Ferdinand, screenplay by Robert L Baird and Tim Federle and Brad Copeland; story by Ron Burch & David Kidd and Don Rhymer
Cries From Syria, directed by Evgeny Afineevsky
Sundance Feature Film
Crown Heights, written by Matt Ruskin
The Big Bang Theory, “The Long Distance Dissonance,” teleplay by Chuck Lorre & Steve Holland & Tara Hernandez; story by Steven Molaro & Eric Kaplan & Jim Reynolds
The Good Doctor, “Pilot,” written by David Shore
Children’s Live Action
Degrassi: Next Class, “#ImSleep” written by Matt Huether
Doc McStuffins, “Hannah the Brave,” written by Kerri Grant