This story about Spike Lee first appeared in the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.
This time three years ago, Spike Lee respectfully turned down an invitation to attend the Oscars after the Academy failed to nominate a single person of color across all four acting categories for the second consecutive year. Lee said both then and now that he’s constantly asked about the state of diversity in the industry, and he issued a challenge to journalists to ask the white nominees what they think of the racial disparity.
Now Lee has his own Oscar nomination for directing “BlacKkKlansman.” Remarkably, it’s his first directing nomination in a career that has included such notable films as “Do the Right Thing” and “Malcolm X,” and a career that has netted him an Honorary Oscar. (The film’s Best Picture nomination is also the first for a “Spike Lee Joint.”)
Yet Lee is still getting questions about the state of the industry, and reiterating what he said three years ago.
“My answer is always this: Until there is diversity among the gatekeepers, it’s always going to be iffy,” Lee said. “The real power is behind the camera, not in front of it. These are the individuals who breathe rarefied air, who make decisions about what film we’re making, who’s going to make it, who’s going to write it. Those are the questions that ultimately decide what is going to happen.”
Lee’s nomination makes him only the sixth black director ever nominated for the prize, joining a list that includes John Singleton, Lee Daniels, Steve McQueen, Barry Jenkins and Jordan Peele. He’s quick to point out that list would not be here if not for Gordon Parks, Ossie Davis, Michael Schultz and many more who were never recognized by the Academy.
But he did note the progress made when #OscarsSoWhite first dominated the conversation, giving then-Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and the hashtag’s creator, April Reign, their due.
“Cheryl has not gotten the credit she deserves for turning this whole thing around,” Lee said emphatically. “I believe it was not an easy thing to get the Academy to move forward. Nonetheless, they did, and all these black folks who have gotten Oscar nominations since then, some credit has to be given to Cheryl Boone Isaacs.”
And he thinks it will show where it matters too. In terms of his own film’s fortunes on Oscar night, he said he likes being the “dark horse in the race” because he’s always been the underdog.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said, going on to make a truly bold prediction about the broadcast itself.
“This is going to be the highest-rated Oscar show in years, guaranteed,” he said. “Even without a host! ABC will be happy about the ratings of this show. And they got their film in it, too, ‘Black Panther,’ which has made $1.3 billion. People are going to watch this Academy Awards, for sure.”
To read more of TheWrap’s Down to the Wire Oscar magazine, click here.