After more than three decades of making films that have collectively established an undeniable cultural legacy, 61-year-old auteur Spike Lee is finally an Academy Award nominee for best picture and director.
It’s as noteworthy a headline as Tuesday’s Oscar nominations announcement is bound to produce. In fact, Lee’s original screenplay notice for the 1989 lightning rod “Do the Right Thing,” which will celebrate its 30th anniversary this summer, and a bid for the 1997 documentary “4 Little Girls,” remained his only Oscar nominations to date until this morning, when he picked up three for “BlacKkKlansman.”
The Academy somewhat rectified the years of oversight for landmark achievements like “Malcolm X” and “25th Hour” (considered by some to be one of the very best films of its decade) with an Honorary Oscar in 2015, but Lee’s bids for directing and producing his latest are obviously a long time coming.
For the prolific filmmaker, who also continues to work in the documentary space and adapted his 1987 debut film “She’s Gotta Have It” for the small screen in 2017, the Oscar arena has felt out of reach for so long he had squared himself with it. “After what happened with ‘Do the Right Thing,’ I just had to let it go and just be at peace with knowing that the great work is going to outlast awards,” Lee told Variety‘s “Playback” podcast in October. “Do the Right Thing” was notoriously passed over in a number of categories, including best picture, where “Driving Miss Daisy” reigned.
“People are still shocked to this day that ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ won best picture,” Lee continued. “Who’s watching that film now? So, I’m at peace with it.”
Nevertheless, better late than never.
Lee is the sixth black filmmaker to be Oscar-nominated for directing, after John Singleton (“Boyz N the Hood”), Lee Daniels (“Precious”), Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”), Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”), and Jordan Peele (“Get Out”). He’s also the 11th black producer to be nominated for best picture, and the first black writer to be nominated a second time for screenplay. No black filmmaker has ever won best director.
Other nominations for “BlacKkKlansman” included supporting actor (Adam Driver), film editing, and original score.
Other films in the mix for best picture this year include “Black Panther,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “The Favourite,” “Green Book,” “Roma,” “A Star Is Born” and “Vice.”