Asked backstage at the Dolby Theatre if his Adapted Screenplay win for BlacKkKlansman makes up for Do the Right Thing loss at the 1990 Oscars and the Academy overlooking it for a Best Picture nomination, Lee quipped in reference to that year’s Driving Miss Daisy Best Picture win: “I’m snake bit. Every time somebody is driving somebody, I lose – but they changed the seating arrangement!”
Pressed again about his sore-loser response in the theater after Green Book was announced as the winner, Lee responded, “Oh wait a minute, what reaction did you see? What did I do?” he continued. “No, I thought I was courtside at the [Madison Square] Garden. The ref made a bad call.”
Still, while Lee didn’t win Best Picture, he finally found himself in that category, which he was happy to acknowledge. In an Oscar night bringing forth multiple historic wins for African-Americans, Lee knows who he has to thank for his own win in Adapted Screenplay.
“Here’s the thing: 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 Cheryl Boone Isaacs,” Lee told the press. “Facts.”
With three nominations tonight—for Adapted Screenplay, Director and Picture—Lee prepared two speeches for the evening, he said, “one with the list of people I was going to thank, and the other was what you heard me say.”
“[But] I said to myself, ‘Self, your black ass won’t be up here again,’ ” Lee explained of his ultimate decision to go political in his acceptance speech, touching memorably on black history and the 2020 election, in lieu of a more traditional list of thank-yous.
There was much discussion in the room about the director’s 1990 nomination for Do the Right Thing, also in a Screenplay category, regarding the legacy of that film, and how it might be different were he to tackle it today. But Lee wasn’t interested in considering hypotheticals.
“The film was made when it was made. But the thing is, I wrote that film in ’88,” he said. “I was talking about gentrification, about global warming, and all the stuff I talked about in that film is still relevant today.”
Along those same lines, Lee feels confident about what the legacy of BlacKkKlansman will be.
“I do know that the coda of this film, where we saw homegrown, red-white-and-blue terrorism…Heather Heyer, her murder was an American terrorist act, when the President of the United States did not refute, did not denounce the Klan, the alt-right and Neo-Nazis,” he said.
Lee reflected. “This film, whether we won Best Picture or not, will stand the test of time for being on the right side of history.”
Of course, multiple journalists tried to get Lee’s thoughts on controversial topics. David Duke has seen the film—but what do you want to say to him? And what did you really think about Best Picture winner, Green Book?
“Let me take another sip,” Lee joked with a glass of champagne in hand. “Next question!”
Adapted from a book by Ron Stallworth, BlacKkKlansman tells an unbelievable true story, examining Stallworth’s experience as the first African-American officer in the Colorado Springs police department who managed to successfully infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan.
Lee co-wrote the script with Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott.