For every Oscar winner there are (at least) four losers sitting a few feet away. In the Best Picture category this year, there were seven losers and while most of them did the obligatory nod, smile and clap when their film wasn’t called, Spike Lee wasn’t having it.
If you were watching from home (which we assume most of you were), you might have missed Lee’s reaction to Julia Roberts reading that the Best Picture winner was Green Book starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali who had won Best Supporting Actor for his role just a couple hours earlier. According to members of the audience, Lee was “visibly angry” and tried to leave the Dolby Theater before the filmmakers were able to make their speech.
Spike Lee was visibly angry when “Green Book” was announced as the winner of best picture at the Oscars, waving his arms in disgust and appearing to try to storm out of the Dolby Theatre before he was stopped at the doors. He returned to his seat when the speeches were over.
— Andrew Dalton (@andyjamesdalton) February 25, 2019
Other reports add that when Lee returned to his seat, he turned around and spoke “intensely” to Jordan Peele (who didn’t applaud the winner) until the speeches were over. After the ceremony concluded and Lee was ushered backstage for interviews, the director didn’t hold back his disdain for the decision.
“I’m snake bit. Every time somebody is driving somebody, I lose – but they changed the seating arrangement!” Lee said, sipping champagne. He was referring to 1990 when Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture and his film Do The Right Thing didn’t even get a nomination.
Spike Lee: “Every time somebody’s driving somebody, I lose.”
— AP Entertainment (@APEntertainment) February 25, 2019
When he was asked about his reaction to the win, Lee took another sip of champagne before calling, “next question!” and stepping away from the mic.
“Wait, what reaction did you see? What did I do?” he asked. When the reporter described the reaction she witnessed, Lee responded, “I thought I was courtside at [Madison Square Garden] — the ref made a bad call.”
Lee is infamous for getting heated at New York Knicks basketball games, and it would seem that translated to the Oscars. However upset he seemed, Lee went on to talk about the important representation and inclusion progress the Academy has made in recent years.
Spike Lee popped off pic.twitter.com/GrECWwjJdH
— 𝚖𝚊𝚍𝚒𝚜𝚘𝚗 (@madisonripIey) February 25, 2019
So what was that about?
Earlier in the night, Spike Lee had won his first Oscar ever with his win for Best Adapted Screenplay. His outburst was likely less about his film BlacKkKlansman losing the Best Picture category and more about Green Book winning. Green Book has been criticized for its lack of focus on the violent realities of segregation and racism and for its narrative that ultimately translates to a feel-good story where a white person learns that black people have it rough in the south. In the year 2019, Green Book isn’t the progressive film it sells itself as. Maybe at the turn of the century, but not now. As someone who has been pushing the boundaries of the civil rights conversation in cinema for his entire career, you can see why the win rubbed Spike Lee the wrong way (and he wasn’t the only one).
Of course Donald Trump had to weigh in
While Lee was fuming at the Best Picture win, someone else was feeling equal animosity toward the director himself. Lee’s stirring political acceptance speech drew some harsh criticism from none other than the president of the United States. Donald Trump not only chided Lee for using notes for his speech, he claimed that Lee’s remarks were racist… towards him… the president.
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, who has done more for African Americans (Criminal Justice Reform, Lowest Unemployment numbers in History, Tax Cuts,etc.) than almost any other Pres!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 25, 2019
Now first of all, REVERSE RACISM IS NOT REAL. Second, Spike Lee’s speech was mostly about “giv[ing] praise to the ancestors that helped build this country” at the end of Black History Month. He acknowledged that it was 400 years ago that African slaves were first kidnapped from their native lands and brought to work in North America. He touched on his own experiences and how his grandmother put him through school at NYU. Then, he got political, which is likely the part Trump didn’t like.
“The 2020 presidential election is around the corner,” Lee said to audience cheers. “We must all mobilize; we must all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let’s do the right thing!”
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) February 25, 2019
You’ll note that at no point did Lee mention Trump by name or even the office of the president in general; he simply called for people to “do the right thing” and choose love over hate — which Donald Trump interpreted as a “racist hit” against himself. Hmmm.
Thankfully, people were not amused by the the president’s hateful attack and saw right through his claims that Lee’s speech was racist towards him.
The President’s attack on Oscar winner #SpikeLee is despicable. We should not become numb to spectacle and menace of the leader of our country making public attacks on private citizens, especially when based on deliberately false accusations & racism.
— Sherrilyn Ifill (@Sifill_LDF) February 25, 2019
Note: Spike Lee didn’t actually say one anti-Trump thing in his speech.
Also, once again, note that Trump insults the intelligence of a prominent black figure. https://t.co/XAf6ZsXM6E
— Sopan Deb (@SopanDeb) February 25, 2019
Spike Lee didn’t mention Trump. This is what he said: “Let’s all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let’s do the right thing!”
It’s notable that Trump took an endorsement of “love” and doing “the right thing” as an attack on him! https://t.co/ZDkkk3XdpO
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 25, 2019
Mr. President, Spike Lee said “Make the moral choice between love versus hate” and you took that as an attack on you. I would say your reaction is very telling.
— Matthew Dowd (@matthewjdowd) February 25, 2019
Is it really the Oscars without an international controversy?