Spike Lee Won His Oscar, Yes, but Ultimately, the Oscars Still Have Failed Him


It happened, and wow, was it a long time coming. Spike Lee-- director, producer, actor, and writer extraordinaire-- finally took home his first Oscar at this past weekend’s 91st Academy Awards. Lee, who has been in the film business since the early ’80s, rightfully won the Best Adapted Screenplay award for BlacKkKlansman.

As the overjoyed Lee leaped into award presenter and frequent collaborator Samuel L. Jackson’s arms on the Oscar stage, I thought maybe, just maybe, the Academy had finally come to its senses.

In the past few years, the Academy Awards have been at the center of a seemingly endless stream of controversies that are absolutely deserved. From #OscarsSoWhite to the #MeToo movement, the failures of the Academy have been put on full blast--another implication that has been a long time coming.

Still, while strides have been taken in Hollywood to include more ethnically, racially, and gender-diverse voices in the movie-making process, there is still a long way to go.

Which brings me back to Spike Lee’s Oscar. After his Adapted Screenplay win, I hoped that perhaps hopelessly problematic Best Picture contender, Green Book, wouldn’t win. I didn’t necessarily think BlacKkKlansman would take home the top prize, but I did wish that anyone other than the Green Book team would.

Alas, by now, we all know how that played out.

Instead of digging deeper into the already publically discussed issues with Green Book, instead, I want to go back in time to the 1990 Academy Awards, where Spike Lee’s phenomenal Do the Right Thing did not take home a single award, and Lee lost his first Oscar.

That year, Driving Miss Daisy, a misguided film that involved a friendship between a black character and an elderly white character, won Best Picture. Lee’s Do the Right Thing was not even nominated for Best Picture.

One of these movies aged well. The other most definitely has not. Can you guess which?

That’s right, Driving Miss Daisy has the same exploited, stereotypical racial profiles that this year’s Green Book contains, just with the races of its two main characters switched.

And once again, a Spike Lee film was denied the recognition it deserved. BlacKkKlansman, like Do the Right Thing before it contains themes that are painfully accurate. As with most of Spike Lee’s films, dark comedy and the horrendous truth about America’s racial history are on full blast in both of these films.

There’s no doubt in my mind that like Do the Right Thing, BlacKkKlansman will be recognized as a masterpiece decades down the line. I can’t say the same thing about Green Book, and I wouldn’t want to.

Spike Lee deserves his Adapted Screenplay Oscar, but ultimately, he deserved more. I hope that the Academy sooner rather than later recognizes the voices of black filmmakers such as Lee, Barry Jenkins, Ava DuVernay, and other up and coming auteurs of cinema in its top category. It’s about damn time.