President Trump tweeted that it would be “nice if Spike Lee could read his notes, or better yet not have to use notes at all, when doing his racist hit on your president…” He went on to talk up his record, saying he has “done more for African Americans” than “almost any other Pres!”
Lee did not directly call out the president in his acceptance speech. He talked about a choice between love and hate and called on people to “mobilize” ahead of the next election. He also talked about black history and his own relatives, notably his grandmother, who he said had put him through college.
“Before the world tonight, I give praise to our ancestors who have built this country into what it is today along with the genocide of its native people,” Lee said. “We all connect with our ancestors. We will have love and wisdom regained; we will regain our humanity. It will be a powerful moment.”
He added: “The 2020 presidential election is around the corner. Let’s all mobilize. Let’s all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let’s do the right thing! You know I had to get that in there.”
Trump’s comment drew expressions of anger and astonishment. Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, wrote on Twitter that Trump’s attack on Lee was “despicable.”
“We should not become numb to spectacle and menace of the leader of our country making public attacks on private citizens, especially when based on deliberately false accusations & racism,” she wrote.
“Many will shrug at the President’s twitter attack,” she added. “But when leaders publicly attack artists we should not take it lightly. And when Trump projects his own racism on to an artist who has devoted his career to addressing the truth abt racism we shld take it seriously.”
“#SpikeLee was making extraordinary films exploring & exposing racism in our country when the President was calling for the execution of African American teenagers who were wrongly accused of a crime they didn’t commit.”
The latter was a reference to the Central Park Five, the five black and Latino teenagers who were wrongfully accused in 1989 of raping a white woman jogger in Central Park. Trump placed full page ads in New York papers at the time, calling for the death penalty. But even after their convictions were vacated based on DNA evidence, and another man confessed to the crime, Trump refused to back away from the claim that they were guilty.