“Do not turn that motherf—ing clock on!” he shouted as he took to stage, relishing in a moment years in the making. However, Academy producers were less enthused, bleeping out the sentence and leaving many viewers confused as to why the audio dropped out for so long at the start of his remarks.
Audio didn’t cut back in until Lee began thanking his wife Tonya Lewis Lee – the start to an impassioned speech about the history of African-Americans in the United States and the extreme hardships they faced.
“I want to thank Tonya,” he said. “The word today is irony; the date, the 24th; the month, February, which also happens to be the shortest month of the year, which also happens to be Black History Month; the year, 2019; the year, 1619. History, herstory. 1619, 2019. Four hundred years, our ancestors were stolen from Africa and enslaved. They worked the land from morning to night.”
“Before the world tonight I give praise to my ancestors who built our country, along with the genocide of our native people,” he continued. “We all connect with ancestors, to regain our humanity. It will be a powerful moment.”
Lee also took time to thank his grandmother – a college graduate despite being the daughter of a slave – who saved 50 years of social security checks to put him through college all while calling him “Spiky poo” along the way.
After graduating film school from New York University’s Tisch School of Arts, Lee got his first taste of Academy recognition for his 1990 film “Do the Right Thing” before nabbing another nod in 1998 for “4 Little Girls” as well as an honorary Oscar in 2016. This year, Lee is nominated in three categories including best achievement in directing, best motion picture, and best adapted screenplay, for which he won the Academy Award.
Back on the Academy stage, Lee closed out his speech with a simple call to action, reminding audience members about the impending presidential elections and ending with a small shoutout for his first hit film.
“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,” he said. “Let’s do the right thing! You know I had to get that in there.”