By John H. Foote
Freshly minted Academy Award winner Spike Lee continued his track record of being a sore loser last week when he stormed angrily out of the Oscars when Green Book won Best Picture. Visibly upset, Lee strode up the walkway but was not permitted to exit until the acceptance speeches were finished. Many in the audience were shocked at the gifted filmmaker’s behaviour, but if they paid attention to his record it must have been expected.
Green Book could not have been that big a surprise having won the Producers Guild Of America Award for Best Picture and the Golden Globe for Best Picture. The film had been a major critical hit since emerging from TIFF, despite complaints it was conservative and told the story of the white man. To start, the son of that white man wrote the screenplay, so chances are he created the film based on what he had been told. Second, the two actors each had equal screen time but the studio and supporting actor winner Mahershala Ali made the decision he would campaign for supporting rather than lead.
In 1989 Lee directed, wrote and co-starred in the searing drama Do the Right Thing, an astonishing film about race relations in Brooklyn, New York on a hot summer day. The film stunned critics at Cannes, earning the best reactions and reviews of the festival, but come awards time it received nothing.
“We was robbed” said Lee in the press, clearly annoyed he had lost. When the film opened in the United States, again rave reviews greeted the film, and it was expected to be a major player come awards season. The Los Angeles Film Critics Association awarded Do the Right Thing awards for Best Film, Director and Screenplay, seeming to start the movie on the road to Oscar glory. Instead, it was snubbed, just two nominations while the conservative and safe Driving Miss Daisy stormed to nine nominations and eventually four awards including Best Picture.
Lee was furious attacking the Academy accusing them of racism. However a more likely scenario could have been box office. Do the Right Thing was hardly a blockbuster, bringing in just under 30 million dollars whereas Driving Miss Daisy was a solid hit at the box office, grossing in excess of 100 million dollars.
In 1992 he publicly attacked Warner Brothers for ignoring his film Malcolm X while they campaigned for Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. For once it was not an unnecessary complaint. Warners had sent Lee into the street, hat in hand to raise money to finish the film. Refusing to give Lee more money to finish the film, they placed him in a terrible position which he turned into something positive for himself. He went public, making the world aware of what was being done to him. Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Cosby were among those who stepped forward with cash, as well as Oliver Stone who claimed to be embarrassed for Warner Brothers and their behaviour. At Oscar time, Malcolm X received just two nominations, a true slap in the face as it was among the year’s very best. Warner Brothers’ other film, Unforgiven, deservedly earned Best Picture.
Eight years later Lee directed the superb documentary Four Little Girls, which was Oscar nominated as Best Feature Documentary. So was The Long Way Home, a film about the birth of the state of Israel after the Holocaust. Before the awards Lee bemoaned, “We got no chance against a film about the Holocaust. Not in this town. No chance.”
For a director so angry and outspoken about racism in Hollywood, he certainly had no issue making such a racist comment!
And now the Green Book rant, which reeks of immaturity. Lee is a world class filmmaker, his films and documentaries have ennobled film. But his mouth constantly has portrayed him as a cocky know-it-all who feels entitled to be handed Academy Awards.
Grow up Spike, seriously, grow the hell up. You have made great films and never won Best Director or Best Picture.
Neither did Howard Hawks or Kubrick dude, pretty decent company.
Let me be clear about Lee’s film BlacKkKlansman, which was very good, very timely, but not even the director’s best film. It certainly was not the years Best Picture.
I loved Green Book, I felt good about humanity after seeing it. And feeling good about the world today is difficult. Spike Lee just made it harder. Should we second guess films that make us feel good, warm, that celebrate friendships between blacks and whites? And it is a true story!!
Why not celebrate the win, congratulate the winners and shut the hell up.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.