Spike Lee Wades in on New Oscars Race Debate

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The new year is upon us, and with the beginning of 2019 comes fresh anticipation for the biggest night in film, the 91st installment of the Oscars. For almost a century, the Academy Awards, a collection of twenty-four trophies for artistic and technical excellence in the film industry, has provided movie lovers everywhere an opportunity to come together to celebrate the best cinematic releases of the previous year. Over the decades, legendary films like The Godfather Part II and Titanic have been formally recognised on the famous red carpet, alongside actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis, for their unforgettable contribution to the film industry.

The Oscars has consistently remained popular viewing among US and international audiences, with an estimated 32.9 million Americans tuning in to see Moonlight snatch Best Picture from La La Land at the 89th Awards in 2017, and in recent years, the stars of Hollywood have exploited this platform for political purposes. Last year, after revelations of widespread sexual harassment in Hollywood began to spread as a result of the Harvey Weinstein abuse scandal, the 90th Oscars was dominated by the presence of the Time’s Up movement, which argue that ‘the clock has run out on sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace’. From Jimmy Kimmel’s poignant yet comedic monologue, to Frances McDormand’s powerful speech which highlighted the important message that ‘we all have stories to tell and projects we need financed’, a fire that demanded sexual equality had started in Hollywood that could not be put out.

But two years prior to this narrative-altering awards ceremony, another movement had been triggered by the fact that, for the second year in a row, all twenty actors nominated in the lead and supporting acting categories were white. This led to the viral hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, which aimed to highlight how, in the Oscars 88-year history, only fourteen black actors had won Oscars, and expose a culture of institutional racism in Hollywood and beyond. The following year, the Guardian suggested that with racially diverse films such as ‘Moonlight, Hidden Figures and Fences in the running, Hollywood appears to have responded positively to [2016’s] protests’.

But last month, esteemed film director and son of a teacher of black literature Spike Lee cast doubt on the progress made by Hollywood by highlighting the fact that he has never been nominated for best director, despite heading landmark cinematic projects such as Do The Right Thing, a classic film about showcasing and supporting racial diversity in acting. Lee, in a wide-ranging interview with Sky News, argues that there was hypocrisy in the 1989 decision to award Best Picture to Driving Miss Daisy and not his Do The Right Thing, despite its sitting in the US Library of Congress and being ‘one of the great[est]American films I’ve ever made’. Now, he appears to have given up on seeking affirmation from Hollywood for his work, concluding that he is ‘not going to allow any group […] the power to validate my work’.

Lee’s 2018 film BlacKkKlansman (rated four stars by our reviewer Liam Beazley) is a crime thriller about the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department, and has been nominated for several Golden Globes (including best drama), with Star Wars star Adam Driver already picking up awards for his role in the film. It was celebrated at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, and despite the director’s apathy towards trophies, it seems possible that Hollywood might be experiencing real change, and Spike Lee’s long-running failure to be nominated for Best Director may finally be overturned by a poignant shift towards racial equality.

Click on the link below to watch the trailer for BlacKkKlansman:

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