Governors Award Winner Spike Lee to Hollywood: ‘You Better Get Smart’

Governors Awards Spike Lee Will Smith
Michael Buckner/Variety/Rex Shutterstock

Governors Awards recipient Spike Lee reminded hundreds of Hollywood heavy-hitters about their failure at diversity, warning, “You better get smart” about making films that represent the population — because by 2043, Caucasians are going to be the minority in the U.S.

Lee’s 17-minute speech was delivered in a calm and genial manner, concluding Saturday’s awards ceremony at Hollywood & Highland that also honored Debbie Reynolds and Gena Rowlands. Lee said when he goes through Hollywood offices, there are only white faces, and the only person of color is the man checking the name at the door. “This industry is so behind sports, it’s ridiculous,” he said, adding that it’s apparently easier for a black person to become president of the U.S. than the head of a studio or TV network.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences president Cheryl Boone Isaacs opened the evening by urging Hollywood to move ahead on diversity, saying, “Words are not enough; we need to take action.” She said the Academy has begun a program called A2020, a five-year plan to get executives to think outside the traditional thinking when hiring, mentoring and encouraging new talent. She also addressed the deaths in Paris on Friday, saying “all of us here stand in solidarity with France and the French people.”

Isaacs also got applause when she pointed out that the evening’s three honorees are important artists “who happen to be two women and one African-American man.”

The Academy’s Governors Awards 2015

The opening and closing remarks added a sociopolitical touch to the evening, which mixed awards buzz, movie-biz nostalgia and the mingling of old and new Hollywood, as movie royalty like Robert De Niro, Jane Fonda and Ian McKellen met with Ice Cube, Saoirse Ronan and Joel Edgerton. Also there accepting congrats for the evening, were Academy CEO Dawn Hudson, many members of the Board of Governors and the producers of the event, Bonnie Curtis and Julie Lynn.

Reynolds was unable to accept her Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in person, so her granddaughter Billie Lourd made a brief and charming acceptance speech in her place. And an audio recording was played of Reynolds, sounding deeply moved in thanking the Academy Board of Governors for the honor.

Fonda and Meryl Streep introduced the segment saluting Reynolds, with 25-plus charities benefiting from her philanthropy. The presentation made particular note of the Thalians, which Reynolds has been spearheading in its work on mental health issues since the 1950s. It also pointed out her decades-long work at preserving Hollywood heritage, including her rescue of 3,500 movie costumes.

Cate Blanchett honored Rowlands as an inspiration, for bringing the “intense authenticity and immediacy” of a live-theater experience to her film work. Laura Linney said Rowlands “smashed and destroyed” the traditional female image of her generation by creating a seismic shift in the depiction of women in her films with John Cassavetes.

The actresses were followed by film clips, narrated by Angelina Jolie, of the their work over the years. Rowlands received two standing ovations, before and after her acceptance speech, in which she paid tribute to writers and told a funny anecdote about working with her idol, Bette Davis. She was presented her trophy by son Nick Cassavetes.

The comic highlight of the evening was the interplay among Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson and Wesley Snipes as they bantered about working with Lee. Jackson hailed the filmmaker as an “American anarchist” and Washington said Lee had put more African-American people to work than anyone else in the history of this business.

At Saturday’s event, the three Governors Award Oscar honorees are allegedly the focus, but for some reason, awards strategists have come to regard the evening as a crucial step in the awards season. Many of the year’s contenders are living and/or working out of town, but studios demand that their Oscar hopefuls come to L.A. for this rite.

And every year it seems to get more intense. The Academy’s tip sheet this week offered more than 100 names of people who are front-runners, dark horses, or are connected with films that are in the mix. Tom Hooper chatted with Ridley Scott, Steve Carell talked with Jay Roach, and Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, Cate Blanchett, Will Smith, and Charlotte Rampling were among the many in the buzzy crowd.

The impressive list of attendees included Danny Boyle, Michael Caine, Scott Cooper, Tom Courtenay, Bryan Cranston, John Crowley, Johnny Depp, Roger Deakins, F. Gary Gray, Todd Haynes, Michael Keaton, Peter Landesman, Brie Larson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Helen Mirren, Jason Mitchell, Carey Mulligan, László Nemes, Bennet Omalu, Joshua Oppenheimer, Bill Pohlad, Brett Ratner, Mark Ruffalo, Kurt Russell, Aaron Sorkin, Paolo Sorrentino, James Vanderbilt, Denis Villeneuve and Diane Warren.

In 2009, the Academy broke out the Governors Awards into a separate, untelevised ceremony; the Oscarcast time constraints limited the number of honorees and the time devoted to each. So the separate ceremony was an experiment, but an immediate success.

The org can salute up to four people each year. It’s generally been four honorees, except for 2011, when there were three. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voted on the awards at their Aug. 25 meeting and announced the recipients a few days later.

AMPAS announced earlier this week that Reynolds would be unable to attend. She is not the first to miss out on her trophy. At the inaugural Governors Awards ceremony in 2009, John Calley was too ill to attend; for the second rites, Jean-Luc Godard stayed home. In the third, James Earl Jones was performing in the West End, so a video hookup allowed him to accept his trophy after a performance of “Driving Miss Daisy.”

(Pictured: Will Smith, Samuel L. Jackson and Wesley Snipes surround honoree Spike Lee with his Oscar. Also, Gena Rowlands and Spike Lee)


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  1. Tom E says:

    Spike, reality is that being AA is a minority. One would expect that a minority head of a studio would prefer to overcompensate for minority content, and lean towards a BET-like content agenda. Frankly, as a non-AA person, I don’t watch BET. Ever. Doesn’t interest me. As a board member of a studio hiring a president, that would be a significant concern would it not? Honestly, Spike, what would you expect a new AA president of CBS to do relative to “the cause” once hired? If he has an “agenda” to integrate AA into more shows, to disconnect the audience… is that not a legitimate concern to a board member doing the hiring?

    What I do like, is diversity in casting, such that many shows I watch have a diverse cast that includes AA actors in proportion to their representation of the general population. Today’s Prime Time shows like Black List, Player, Arrow… all shows I enjoy that all feature one or two AA actors as regulars. That’s proportionate and representative.

    I also enjoy the occasional (representative) film featuring an AA actor, such as the Equalizer. All good. But to cast all films with AA actors, or all with AA leads? That is what one would expect from an AA studio chief, no? Unbalanced agenda not representative of the population at large?

    So all said, I don’t see a problem with not having a minority in the head office of a studio… unless you tell me that they wouldn’t feel compelled to alter the proportion of their studio’s content relative to minority representation and can set that aside for balanced and representative content? That said, though, you don’t seem balanced or representative in your rhetoric or agenda. No?

  2. andwhatnot says:

    It may be so, and if it will turn out so, then blacks need to be aware that they will still be a minority and a minority on the perimeter, sadly due to their own making. They should strive to join whites and the mainstream. If not, they will be left out in this “brown/brownish’ society, which Spike just can’t wait to see.
    Hispanics and Asians will assimilate the current mainstream American culture and its values, that black so hard try to reject, and they will not be inclusive towards blacks. They will not be so understanding.
    Only whites have the appreciation for blacks contribution to this country and see them as the integral part of the US history and culture, but that sympathy is getting strained and tried.
    Hispanics and Asians have no such sentiments, quite the opposite.
    This is not to say that I don’t understand or don’t see a merit in many grievances, but I also see no merit in many of the grievances and histrionics.

  3. Rev. Tyrone Biggums says:

    I think this would be a wonderful opportunity to pause for a moment and give thanks for the many great contributions of the Black community and their culture to our society. Their peaceful and generous nature makes them ideal neighbors, lending testimony to their exceptional family values and parenting skills unrivaled by any other culture.Their commitment to academic excellence enriches our schools and serves as an example to all who hope to achieve prominence as a people. Real Estate values are fueled by the influx of African Americans into an area due to their caring and respectful nurturing of these communities, an example of all they have achieved by their enthusiasm for self-improvement through hard work and a self-reliant can-do nature. Without their industrious and creative drive, we would be poorer as a nation.

    Presently enriching the cities of Spokane WA, Chicago IL, Philadelphia PA, Washington D.C., St. Louis MO, New Orleans LA, Los Angeles CA, Flint MI, Baltimore MD, Pontiac MI, Gary Ind., Newark NJ, Cleveland OH, Atlanta GA, Richmond VA, Memphis TN, Birmingham AL, Camden NJ; and let’s not forget Detroit, the tourism capital of the world!!

  4. Johnny Kay says:

    When the United States does become “majority minority”, rest assured that the same international corporate elite that controls the country now will control it then.

    Blacks and Hispanics are just as easy to manipulate as Whites. . .

  5. dola says:

    I saw the clip on you tube and I,was so happy. The captivating pic of Wesley,Samuel and Denzel is something to behold. Thank you Spike and the wonderful actors that supported him on this joyous occasion. I saw the critics calling him a racist and white hater. To dislike someone who fails to compromise and tell his story” Spike lee I salute you” a lot of people have something to take from his movies. You dont have to agree Spike lee has never told his fans to agree with him,its his story and the way he sees it.
    Thank you Spike another 50 years to go.

  6. doug says:

    Black American fertility rates are now below replacement level.

  7. Mitch Rapp says:

    Spike needs to reevaluate his little prediction. It’s right if he’s only talking about whites. It’s wrong if he thinks blacks will outnumber caucasians. (Yes, hispanics are caucasians too). That number is rising in the other direction.

  8. Greg says:

    it’s always funny to hear some white folks talk about race. Idiots you missed what he was saying for your own racial bias. translation it’s time for hollywood to start looking like America in the boardroom, instead of just looking like white america. Please stop with this bs about the best person should get the job, most people that get these positions, get them because of who they know. Another bs white racist answer. Finally it’s like 7 major studios and the positions he is talking about are like a 100, you really don’t think it’s 50 Black, Hispanic, and Asian people to do these jobs and can do great jobs.LOl, only in the bubble of white supremacy do you hear these idiotic comments to feed their ignorance and hate.

    • doug says:

      It’s always boring to hear black people talk about race because it has all been said before a million times and it’s always rubbish.

      • greg says:

        Doug that was mighty racist and stupid of you. Just go back to your white supremacy bubble. To say what hollywood is doing is not racially bias is something only a racist would say. Spike Lee is right, going forward it will not be a good business move to be a white washed company if you want to be a major studio or t.v. network. The demographics are not there for this whitewashing, you can’t ignore more than half the audience, that’s stupid business, but to the idiot Doug that’s smart business to a racist like him.

  9. p3orion says:

    “[I]t’s apparently easier for a black person to become president of the U.S. than the head of a studio or TV network.”

    Of course it is. Unlike Democrat voters, studio and network execs expect the person heading things up to have some qualifications.

  10. RTUT says:

    Spike, it is not the color of your skin, it is the content of your character. Let’s hope these future people are up to the challenge. Current headlines indicate they are not. They are being indoctrinated in higher education to hate and to factionalize society. Why don’t you help stop that by being a good example?

  11. jeff says:

    “because by 2043, Caucasians are going to be the minority in the U.S”

    and you’ll STILL be whining about white privilege and demanding minority set-asides

  12. POLICESTATE says:

    White folks are already a minority on Planet Earth. Soon they will be a minority in the USA, and I can see that in a few generations there will be few white people left. Already you see in many places where white folks are breeding with other races, so pretty soon all those so-called racist white people will cease to exist and then who will the so-called minority races blame for their various plights?

  13. MB says:

    Then Whites will get to live off your tax dollar through welfare, food stamps, etc….

  14. D Schwarz says:

    So despite “white” Hollywood being the most successful in the world movie industry, Spike Lee feels that we are not getting enough Tyler Perry material, nor action flicks, nor movies about black slaves that America no longer cares to see? Political orientated movies will be the downfall of Hollywood with Lee leading the way.

  15. Fifbdb says:

    Who cares what this trash has to say? Blacks are the only race who are racist. Thats all they have, is “racism”. Without it, they dont have a gripe. So theyll never let it die.

    And this country will be totally different by 2043. More conservative than ever! Like it or gtfo!

  16. docweasel says:

    Then do white people get to whinge about “people of color privilege” and “micro-aggressions” and having our culture appropriated every time a person of color does something a white person originated? Do we get quotas and percentages of white people in every career, college and movie? Will there be affirmative action for the years of preferential treatment people of color have gotten for nearly a century by then?

  17. S.K. Dolan says:

    Spike Lee needs to go read the White House based Census Bureau population projections for 2065 in the United States.

    Because what he is saying totally constricts the Census Bureau’s projections.

  18. Wilder Napalm says:

    Spike is correct. One thing the dumbass is forgetting is the Democrats have a new slave source, Hispanics. Whites maybe gone but the slave masters will always own your kind Spike because that is what you want.

  19. realist. says:

    Ever wonder why the browner white nations get the worse they become? Hmmmmm. Wonder why that is?

  20. Floyd DaBarber says:

    What a pimp.

  21. wodun says:

    Getting tired of the eliminationist rhetoric coming from our friends to the left. And why scapegoat non-Democrats and the entire society for how Progressive Hollywood is run?

    What our friends to the left always miss when they are out there slaying monsters, they are the monsters. It is very easy to expose them as being extremely racist by holding them to their own standards. What we are seeing is a classic case of projection, but on a very large scale.

  22. looneytoonsindville says:

    Why criticize the man for telling the truth? There are black neighborhoods where a white person entering will be warned, then harmed if s/he continues on in.

  23. countenance says:

    Spike Lee be like: White people will no longer be a majority fewer than thirty years from now, because of Hispanic and Asian immigration and population growth, so Hollywood better make more black movies.


  24. Sam says:

    Yo Spike, you will be 6 feet under by 2043

  25. John says:

    Isn’t Spike Lee the same clown that said whites aren’t welcome in black neighborhoods?

    He is an utter joke.

  26. bvikay says:

    Spike Lee. Hollywoods biggest BIGOT. Black racists reign supreme in Hollywood where people are judged by the color of their skin, not their character.

  27. Ted says:

    That’s good – then Whites can get all the special privileges now denied them because they are not a “minority”!!!

  28. Fed Up says:

    Well, I’d say Lee’s prognostications of the white man’s demise is greatly exaggerated. As I’ve been cautioning black internet warriors for years, there are still about 200 million white people and only 37 million black in America even though one cannot tell from the culture and arts.

    And if blacks think most Latinos, who do not think of themselves as something other than white, are going to roll with them should the stuff hit the fan, I’d say they will be sorely disappointed.

    Whites may not be a numerical majority after a certain point but they will be by far the largest majority within a plurality for many decades to come. Especially when just about all other groups may not see themselves as “white”, strictly speaking they sure as hell don’t see themselves or identify as black.

  29. Della Street says:

    Well, then, you all better get jobs!!

  30. ray says:

    Whites may not be majority by 2043 but so will the negro’s. The negro’s will never become the majority in this country. The Hispanics will be the majority might even be the Asians. So Spike might and all the negro’s start getting smart and kiss up with Asians because the Asians are more prejudice than the whites when it comes to race.

    • Titus Greenwood says:

      You got that right! If old Spike thinks that he’s going to get over on the Asians and Hispanics, “he dun been smokin’ wacky backy!” Where I live, the Mexicans have nothing but disdain and hatred for American blacks! Mexicans got little use for blacks. Asians, even less.

    • Jae Roe says:

      You are right. I’m Asian and most of the Asians I know can’t stand most blacks. They are a bunch of whiney, “always a victim”, lazy bums. 50 years of coddling has done them no good.

  31. Machismo says:

    “Spike – Caucasians are going to be the minority in the U.S.” No kidding? Well Spike, with all the eager to work foreigners that your beloved Obama has imported. Your race is about to become devastated because all those jobs they could have had, are now done by those who came from Mexico, Syria, China, Palestine and Somalia. Your race is about to become extinct in a few years in the US from lack of survival skills. One of which is education, and not giving a rip to learn a career.

  32. Buzz says:

    Whites may become the minority, but will still be the most well armed segment of society.

  33. and hopefully you wont be with us anymore spike.

  34. HenryC says:

    Not a problem. Get along fine with Asians and Hispanics and anyone that does not have a chip on their shoulder..

  35. Robert says:

    “…by 2043, Caucasians are going to be the minority in the U.S.”

    Racist statements take many forms.

  36. art says:

    I have never worried about to worry about being smarter than Spike Lee

  37. George Stark says:

    Spike is delusional. 54% of all black pregnancies end in abortion which is celebrated by the Democratic Party. 6,000 blacks are killed annually by other blacks. Blacks are the only minority in America that is on the decline in population. If the current trend continues, by 2038 the black vote will be insignificant which is why the left is actively importing Third Word denizens to replace them. You’d think that blacks would catch onto this concisely planned genocide; few do.

  38. craig says:

    Spike makes another stupid comment.

  39. dtde123 says:

    Um, sorry Spikey. At the rate blacks ABORT their UNBORN….it ain’t gonna happen. Muslims, yes. Blacks, no.

  40. Cliff says:

    It’s funny, ol Spike believes he was given the Governor’s Award, because he’s made quality films in the past. In reality, he was given the award by the Hollywood white guilt crowd, not in SPITE of the fact he’s black, but BECAUSE he’s black!

  41. taffy says:

    The Muslims are going to slaughter us all way before 2043 anyway.

  42. Tuppence says:

    Will we then qualify for Affirmative Action goodies in jobs and schools? Can’t wait!

  43. drewvt6 says:

    African American’s better get REAL smart then. They’re systemically eliminating themselves by aborting 2 out of every 3 pregnancies and by killing as many of their neighbors as is possible in every major metro in America. Mr Lee seems to insinuate that by 2043 Blacks will be the majority whereas the reality is, they’ll be an even less relevant minority with the influx of Asian immigrants pushing them into the 3rd largest racial group behind hispanics and whites.

  44. mmercier0921 says:

    The fact remains that when blacks become the “majority” half of them will still be in prison.

  45. roccotool says:

    This is why I will never purchase tickets or give money to a racist film director or producer. I’m adding Tarantino to the list, too. Lee’s remarks are insulting to everyone.

  46. Marty Smith says:

    I feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. Those words are not nice and are hateful. Spike Lee hurts my feelings.

  47. trtmntdude says:

    Weren’t whites the minority in South Africa? So, no big deal.

  48. Hans Niemand says:

    The last thing on earth Mr. Lee should want is for whites to get “smart.” If they did they would not waste any time bothering with the opinions of this irrelevant, overgrown band-geek, legend-in-his-own-mind!

  49. Blackgriffin says:

    Hey, Spike Lee, F— you.

  50. Bill Crawford says:

    “You better get smart” about making films that represent the population — because by 2043, Caucasians are going to be the minority in the U.S.

    It sounds like Spike is telling it like it is and that Blacks and Hispanics are not smart enough to run anything and better get it together before the whites are gone and how many times have we seen this? hundreds, look at any Black or Hispanic country and what do you see? a continual nightmare unfolding that’s what! Ole Spike is not smart enough to read between the lines to realize what he said I am betting.

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