From the first time I experienced the artistry of Spike Lee, reflected in his film “She’s Gotta Have It” shortly after its debut in 1987, I was hooked on the artistry and creative genius of the movie’s director and prolific filmmaker, Spike Lee.
But for all of its innovations, reversal of societal norms and the unique methods of cinematography employed by the Morehouse grad, Lee’s movie about Nola Darling, determined to express her sexual freedom and the three lovers she attempts to balance in her life in ways more acceptable for the male species, would be categorically ignored by the Academy, passed over in a number of categories, including best picture — an honor that would go to “Driving Miss Daisy” — much to Lee’s chagrin.
Even with the Academy’s acknowledgement of the film’s screenplay, which marks its 30th anniversary this summer, a nod for his 1997 documentary “4 Little Girls,” and an Honorary Oscar in 2015, Lee, 61, has found himself on the outside looking in, saying that he finally had to move on and not be concerned by decades of being unfairly snubbed.
“I just had to let it go and be at peace with knowing that the great work is going to outlast awards,” he said during a podcast last October in an interview with Variety.
But as the adage goes, “better late than never.”
Finally, and long after “Malcolm X” and “25th Hour,” two of the best films of their time according to many industry experts would be passed over for Oscar consideration, Spike Lee has picked up three Oscar nominations for the 2018 sensation, “BlacKkKlansman,” including best picture, best screenplay and best director.
Lee follows John Singleton (“Boyz N the Hood”), Lee Daniels (“Precious”), Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”), Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”) and Jordan Peele (“Get Out”), becoming the sixth Black filmmaker to be Oscar-nominated for directing; the 11th Black producer nominated for best picture; and the first Black writer nominated twice for screenplay. And maybe, just maybe, Spike Lee could become the first Black filmmaker to win best director.
At least, that’s what I’m hoping.
Perhaps the themes that Lee has chosen for his films throughout his career have been difficult for the mostly-white voting Academy members to swallow. Perhaps they looked the other way, thinking that if they did so long enough, that the obnoxious, irascible, independent filmmaker, undaunted by naysayers as he took on “discomforting” themes in his films — politically-charged issues like race relations, urban crime and poverty — even colorism in the Black community — that he’d one day finally just go away.
I, for one, am both inspired and glad that Spike Lee did just the opposite. I don’t know about you, but I can distinctly remember where I was in my own life, the joys and pain therein, when Lee once again hit me with a psychic lightning bolt with such provocative works as “School Daze,” “Do the Right Thing,” “Jungle Fever,” “Crooklyn,” “Get on the Bus,” “Miracle at St. Anna” and “Chi-Raq.”
During the only interview I’ve had with Spike Lee just before the release of “Chi-Raq” at his Washington, D.C. hotel a few years ago, I was impressed by the calm nature of the brother from ATL who turned $175,000 into a $7 million payday at the box office with “She’s Gotta Have It.” I could almost see and hear the wheels turning in his head.
After that encounter, I didn’t want to be like “Mike.” No, I wanted to be like “Spike.”
“BlacKkKlansman” may finally be the film that results in Lee getting the acknowledgment by his peers and the industry that has long evaded him and of which he’s so utterly deserving. But the other nominees are no pushovers. Nonetheless, Lee has, after decades of quality work, broken through — he’s been invited to the Big Dance. And he deserves to win.