Spike Lee Wins First Oscar for 'BlacKkKlansman'

*The Breakdown is The North Star’s daily analysis of an essential news story designed to provide historical context, go beyond the popular headlines, and offer a glimpse of where this story may be going next.

Key Facts: Multi-hypenate filmmaker Spike Lee received his first Oscar Award on Sunday night, after three decades of writing, directing, and performing in provocative film and television. Lee’s film BlacKkKlansman – which depicts the true story of a Black police officer who infiltrated a Colorado branch of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s – was nominated for six awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Score. The film won Best Adapted Screenplay, beating A Star is Born and the If Beale Street Could Talk.

Historical Context: This first Oscar win is a big deal for Lee, who came to prominence in the late ‘80s for his thoughtful, incisive, and largely Black cast films such as Bamboozled, Crooklyn, and She’s Gotta Have It. His Brooklyn slice-of-life film, Do The Right Thing, was nominated for an Oscar in 1990 and lost to Driving Miss Daisy. Progressive audiences largely considered that loss a snub. He was previously nominated for Best Documentary for 4 Little Girls.

In an impassioned acceptance speech, Lee invoked centuries of Black history. “I give praise to our ancestors who have built this country into what it is today along with the genocide of its native people. We all connect with our ancestors. We will have love and wisdom regained, we will regain our humanity,” he told the crowd. “The 2020 presidential election is around the corner. Let’s all mobilize. Let’s all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate.”

While his last line memorialized the words (and jewelry) of Do The Right Thing’s Radio Raheem, Lee’s invocation of political revolution did not please President Donald Trump. “Be nice if Spike Lee could read his notes, or better yet not have to use notes at all, when doing his racist hit on your President,” Trump tweeted on Monday morning. Beneath the Surface: The irony that Spike Lee, yet again, lost the Best Picture award to a more sanitized version of race relations should not be lost on the viewing public. Green Book, another based on a true story tale of Jim Crow-era race relations, likely won because it’s more digestible and a feel-good tale in a not-so-good time. Green Book appeases white anxiety about Black excellence, while BlacKkKlansman calls into question myriad issues around racial identity, activism, and deep-seeded hate.

What’s Next: Spike Lee said he “went political” in his acceptance speech because he was skeptical of being nominated for another Oscar Award. He told reporters that his presence, as well as the numerous awards given to Black-centric films, is the result of active campaigning for diversity.

“Without April Reign, #OscarsSoWhite and the former President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, I wouldn’t be here tonight. [The Academy’s] more diverse. That wouldn’t have happened without [Academy PR head] Cheryl Boone Isaacs,” he said. “Whether we won Best Picture or not, [BlacKkKlansman] will stand the test of time for being on the right side of history.”

About the Author

Jessica Lipsky is the content editor for The North Star. Her work as an editor and reporter has appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Vice, Billboard, Remezcla, Timeline and LA Weekly, among others. She regularly pens authoritative features on subculture, broke several music industry-focused #MeToo stories and also writes on the business of music.